13 September 2012

London Film Festival 2012: A Change of Direction

It's that time of year again. No, not autumn--not yet--but the BFI members' priority booking period for the London Film Festival. Unlike last year where I did some advance research on films that might potentially be shown and was a little more prepared when I received the print copy of the programme, this year I've been too busy. I don't like browsing the online programme but I only got round to perusing my print copy last night when I realised that members' booking started today. And actually, it wasn't a tough a job as I thought because with the new Festival Director, Clare Stewart--fresh from Sydney--the 56th London Film Festival is looking a little different to previous years.

First, the good. I really like the way the films are grouped thematically rather than by region this year, making it easy to find a film that encapsulates notions like "love," "dare" and "journey." The festival is shorter this year (only 12 days) and the competition element is being seriously amped up. The BFI finally decided to upgrade its website, which meant that the booking process this morning was a lot less painful than previous years and didn't, as far as I know, result in me receiving a receipt for a ticket that I was later told had not been allocated for me. You are only allowed to book two tickets per screening, which is fairer, but a little frustrating when you are trying to book three tickets, as I was earlier, especially when you aren't warned of this limit when adding the tickets to your basket and are then forced, Olympics-style, to abandon all three tickets and start the search again. Overall, though, I was fairly impressed with the booking system.

I was, however, a little disappointed with this year's programme. LoFiFest has often suffered from its position in the calendar shortly after the Toronto International Film Festival and, presumably to distinguish itself from TIFF, this year's LoFiFest has far fewer of the big-hitting films with the A-list cast. There are a lot more arty, foreign and independent movies this year, which is fine, but I see a lot of those at the BFI and Curzon throughout the year and for me, going to LoFiFest means the rare opportunity to walk the red carpet with George Clooney or to watch Clive Owen talk about his career.

As I wasn't particularly interested in seeing either the opening night gala, Frankenweenie, or the closing night gala, Great Expectations, this pretty much left me with Argo, a political thriller set in the late 1970s directed by and starring Ben Affleck, and with Alan Arkin, Jimmy Cooper from The O.C. and Glenn Childs from The Good Wife among the supporting cast (George Clooney also co-produced). With my red carpet gala sorted, I then picked out my next choices. Jacques Audiard's De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone), with Marion Cotillard, picked up some good film festivals at Cannes this year, so this became my token foreign movie. And Martin McDonagh's follow-up to In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, with Collin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, seemed like another interesting option. I'm happy to have tickets to these three screenings.

In previous years, I have tended to see five or six films, and I may be talked into seeing Michael Haneke's Amour with BB. I may also cave and go to see the surprise film, but based on the rest of the programme and based on my success ratio with previous surprise films, I should probably try to resist.

If you want to go to this year's LoFiFest, check out my tips from two years ago. Patience is the key, though. Many of the gala screenings and premieres sold out this morning, but there will be returns so there is a film you really want to see, it's worth checking back on its LoFiFest page on a regular basis, even if they haven't announced that extra tickets have been made available. There has never been a LoFiFest film that I couldn't attend because I couldn't get a ticket, but I have had to stalk the website quite obsessively at times.

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