Preview: BFI 56th London Film Festival

Categorised as ART., FILM.

The London Film Festival is back this year with a new look, a new director, and a new, compacted timescale. Gone is long-serving and much-loved helmer Sandra Hebron, with the BFI’s head of exhibition Clare Stewart taking the reins, and overseeing a change in the programming of the festival, which is now divided up into what seems like fairly pointless and cringeworthily named strands—‘Love’, ‘Dare’, ‘Journey’ etc—as well including an official competition section, perhaps in a bid to step up its game against the other big festival players on the circuit.

More important than the facelift (and that poster which looks to have been shat out by an AS-level student) are the films, and there’s a lot to get excited about. Yes, the movies bookending the fest are totally uninspiring: kicking things off on opening night is Frankenweenie, proof that Hollywood will literally let Tim Burton keep making exactly the same film over and over ad infinitum, while the closing night gala is the sure-to-be godawful Great Expectations, from Mike Newell; or to use his full name, Mike ‘I’m-the-conceited-bellend-who-directed-Four-Weddings-and-a-Funeral’ Newell. And yes, there are significant no-shows from the heavyweight auteur fare of P.T. Anderson’s The Master and Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life 2, a.k.a. To the Wonder.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot on our watchlist. Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner Amour, Ben Wheatley’s pitch-black Natural Born Killers-in-caravans movie Sightseers, and Ben Affleck’s latest directorial turn in Argo—based on incredible real events in late 70s Tehran, where CIA agents masqueraded as movie producers shooting a sci-fi movie in order to rescue hostages from the US embassy—are among the prestige pictures on show. But there are cinematic riches outside of the galas too: Carlos Reygadas’ beautifully inscrutable Post Tenebras Lux, Greek weird-wave piece Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, and the gruelling but engrossingly stylish Simon Killer, produced by Martha Marcy May Marlene’s Sean Durkin, are but a few. And of course there’s Žižek.

The festival runs from 10-21 October, and public booking opens today. However it’s worth bearing in mind that there are pretty much always spare tickets that get released minutes before even the sold-out gala screenings, so as long as you’re willing to turn up very early and wait in the standby queue you’re in with a pretty good chance.

From today, we’ll have regular updates on here about everything we see, whether it’s good or bad. Stay tuned.

Tim Rogerson

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