The programme for the 55th BFI London Film Festival was launched by artistic director Sandra Hebron last week, with an enticing display of the filmic treats to come!
The festival will screen a total of 204 feature films and 110 shorts in what appears to be an ever imaginative and innovative programme from both established filmmakers and emerging talent, from big blockbuster screenings to intimate documentaries and the alternative experimenta strand. Many of the directors will be at the festival to present their films and take part in career interviews, masterclasses and other curated events to highlight particular strands of the festival. i-D online was delighted to speak to Sandra Hebron to get a heads up before tickets go on sale.
Is it true that this will be your last ever festival as artistic director? Yes it will be and I think I’m slightly in denial about it. The festival is such a busy and involving project, I don’t think I have begun to think about what it will be like when it’s over. I think closing night will probably be a very emotional affair, but the festival is so consuming, that I just haven’t had time to think about what it will feel like once I have left.
What have been some of the highlights to date? One of the highlights has been seeing audiences respond well to films that have come in under the radar and filmmakers who might be quite established now, but weren’t necessarily at the time when we started showing their work – like Harmony Korine, James Benning or Ben Rivers, whose feature, Two Years At Sea, is screening at the festival this year. They’re not the kind of filmmakers who generally get picked up on at the big press launches, but they are filmmakers whose work I have really taken a lot from. It’s amazing to have had the opportunity to present work from filmmakers who I really respect and whose work I wish more people would see, like Fred Wiseman, whose film Crazy Horse is showing this year, or Agnes Varda, who has been at the festival many times – filmmakers who are now going into their 80s! There have been so many opportunities to meet and talk to people who are genuinely creative, in a way that I can barely begin to imagine because it’s so far away from me. Festivals create great environments. You have filmmakers, journalists, audiences, all these people coming together because they love cinema, and many different kinds of cinema.
What are you most excited about in this year’s programme? The breadth and scope of the programme is what really excites me. We have work from highly regarded directors such as Werner Herzog, Jonathan Demme and Alexander Sukurov, as well as work from many newer voices like Tinge Krishnan and Andrew Haigh. I’m also extremely pleased to have had the opportunity to programme This is Not a Film by Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and ethnically Tibetan films Old Dog and The Sun Beaten Path. We’ve had several years now with the festival where the British selection has been very strong, but, again, I think what’s really notable about this year is its breadth. We have Michael Winterbottom shooting an adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbovilles in India and Andrea Arnold making a really radical version of Wuthering Heights, and of course Lynne Ramsay’s We Need To Talk About Kevin, at the same time as work coming through from first time filmmakers, and a couple of films that really mix up documentary and fictional form, like Shock Head Soul and The Somnambulists, which are very much pushing at the boundaries of convention. I think as long as we have a funding system that gives money to Terrence Davies, thank goodness he’s back with the closing night feature The Deep Blue Sea, after a ten year gap, I am optimistic about the future of British cinema, but it always feels like a risky proposition to say that.
Do you have any tips for navigating what can be an overwhelming amount of films in the programme? I can appreciate how sometimes it can become a bit of a military manoeuvre. There are some people who come to the festival only wanting to see the big premieres. For me personally, and indeed next year this will be me, I’ll be more likely to look at some of those films that would be less likely to be coming through into distribution, and they’re easy to find in the programme because there’s no distributor listed next to them. Or another way is to take a particular strand, for example to devote yourself to seeing as much as you can in experimenta, or documentary or there’s a really strong German and Austrian strand this year. A good shortcut is to look at the events we’re planning, it’s usually an indication that there’s a good body of work around that event. But of course, it also very much comes down to personal taste.
The 55th BFI London Film Festival runs from 12 -27th October 2011.
Text: Joe Cohen