The afterglow of Olympic fever looks set to continue with the BFI London Film Festival.
By
Rodney Appleyard

24 Sep 2012 - 3:58 PM  UPDATED 24 Sep 2012 - 3:58 PM

Clare Stewart, the incoming festival director, says London is still buzzing from the euphoria and "palpable energy" created by the Games, which she expects to infect the festival when it runs between October 10th-21st.

"We are fortunate to be staging the festival off the curve of this wave, amid this explosion of creativity and excellence," she says. "It feels like a very rich time for the UK in terms of its sense of self and interest in culture. There is definitely a feeling in the air of people wanting more.

"The festival, which features 14 world premieres, will showcase international talent from over 60 countries in an environment where people are receptive to being challenged and having a thrilling experience. This ideal is very similar to the philosophy of the Games."

Drawing on her successful experience of managing the Sydney Film Festival for five years, she has reshaped the 56th BFILFF to make it even more appealing to new audiences, as well as existing festival goers.

"For the first time, we're introducing an Official Competition section for the Best Film Award and we are going to feature the other competition sections more prominently in the programme. We are also introducing new strands, which are structured around how people like to experience films emotionally.

"By dividing the movies into the themes of love, thrill, dare, cult, journey, laugh, debate and family, we hope this will make it easier for people to navigate around the potentially daunting 225 films."

She first experimented with this concept at the SFF but the London festival provides her with an opportunity to develop and finesse the idea. Judging by her exemplary track record at the SFF, she should have no problem with increasing and diversifying the BFILFF's audience base.

Her achievements at the Sydney Festival include clearing the deficit, transforming it into a profit-making operation and pulling in the highest ever box office ratings during her final year.

Stewart met her objectives by throwing out the rule-book and she is already applying the same philosophy to the BFILFF. In particular, she is very excited about the unique opportunities on offer at this festival.

"It has a significant profile internationally, thanks partly to its strong position on the film calendar. The award season campaigning really starts in earnest at this time of year.

"Although The Artist premiered in Cannes, Harvey Weinstein only started pushing it to the forefront at the London festival screening. That was considered to be the official beginning of its campaign, which ended with a very successful Awards season. We want to build on this profile by highlighting the new competition sections."

The screenings have also been expanded beyond the traditional Leicester Square cinemas, such as the Odeon West End and BFI Southbank, to attract new audiences. Productions will also be showcased at four additional venues around London, including cinemas based in gritty boroughs, such as the Ritzy Brixton.

The whole event kicks off with a bang, featuring Tim Burton's Frankenweenie, which is the first 3D feature film ever to open the festival. This stop motion animation movie will be shown live, simultaneously, to more than 30 screens across the UK and will also include red carpet interviews with Tim Burton and Winona Ryder.

It tells a heartwarming tale about a young boy, Victor, who unexpectedly loses his beloved dog Sparky in a car accident. However, he harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life, with just a few minor adjustments.

Originally created by Burton as a live action short story in 1984, it pays homage to a number of great horror films, such as Bride Of Frankenstein and Godzilla.

The festival is a fitting place for the movie's world premiere because Burton used over 200 London based stop motion animation experts (from 3 Mills Studio) to bring his fantastic story to life.

The closing night also ends with a cracker: Mike Newell's Great Expectations (pictured), which features Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. Stewart says this film will make a perfect conclusion to the festival and London's Bicentenary celebrations of the life and work of Charles Dickens.

One of the movies to watch out for from the Official Competition line-up is Michael Winterbottom's Everyday, which stars Shirley Henderson and John Simm. Over a five year period, this intimately moving movie follows the relationship between a man imprisoned for drug smuggling and his family. It sensitively documents the accumulating strain it takes on his wife and children.

This production faces strong competition from many other thought-provoking movies in this category, such as Midnight's Children, which is an adaption of Salmon Rushdie's novel. Directed by Deepa Mehta, it tells the story of two boys (one rich and one poor) who are swapped after their births, during 1947, when India regained independence from England. Through their eyes, audiences are taken on a fascinating journey of what life was like in this country after this historic event. Rushdie says his original novel is his love letter to India.

Cate Shortland's Lore is flying the flag for Australia in this category. The film is about a German girl, raised by Nazis, who is forced to confront her prejudices in the wake of WWII.

"These movies, plus Sally Potter's Ginger & Rosa and Rama Burshtein's Fill the Void, are all very distinctive and bold in terms of their stylish approach; the way they tell the story and their filmmaking," adds Stewart.

"Lore is an exciting entry for Australia because it's the nation's pick for the 2013 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. On the face of it, you wouldn't know Cate was an Australian director, or Lore was an Australian co-production with Germany."

Stewart is also thrilled about exposing four other Aussie movies to UK audiences, including The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair, starring Jessica Mauboy and British comedian of the moment – Chris O'Dowd.

"And then there's Tony Krawitz's Dead Europe, which is an intriguing adaption of Christos Tsiolkas' 2005 novel. We are also showing the international Premiere of Save Your Legs, which is a cricketing comedy – a must for every London film festival. And finally we are screening Kieran Darcy Smith's Wish You Were Here, starring Joel Edgerton. This movie has already been successful in Australia."

One of the most eagerly anticipated movies in the First Feature Competition, which rewards originality and imagination in directorial debuts, is Scott Graham's Shell. This film is about a 17-year-old woman who lives and works at a remote petrol station in the Scottish Highlands. Her affection for her dad, and the lonely environment, inspires confused emotions that both have difficulty confronting.

Graham is also in the running for the Best Newcomer Award, which highlights British talent. The winner, who could be an emerging writer, actor, producer or director, will receive a £5,000 bursary. The Documentary Competition category, in partnership with the Grierson Trust, completes the Awards section.

A number of other movies are also creating a buzz in the run-up to the festival. This includes Song for Marion, which features Vanessa Redgrave, Terrence Stamp and Christopher Ecclestone. Hyde Park On Hudson, starring Bill Murray, is already attracting attention because it has similar ambitions to The King's Speech. The movie is set on the eve of WWII, when the King and Queen of England make a visit to see Franklin D. Roosevelt in upstate New York to gain support for the war, which broke out three months later.

The Sessions is another moving drama that includes big name stars. Based on a true story, it has been praised for featuring superb performances from John Hawkes, Helen Hunt and William H. Macey. It tells the story about a man in an iron lung, who is determined to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapist and priest, he contacts a professional sex surrogate and turns this dream into a reality.

Dustin Hoffman's debut, Quartet, featuring Dame Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon, plus Ben Affleck's political thriller Argo, produced with George Clooney, are also expected to be popular at the festival.

Rolling Stones fans are in for a special treat thanks to Crossfire Hurricane – a documentary that commemorates the band's last 50 years. On top of that, the rock legends are expected to attend the festival.

One of the highlights in the themed categories is Michael Haneke's Cannes Palme d'or-winner Amour, which heads up the Love section. For people looking for "mind-altering and unclassifiable" fantasy, sci-fi and horror cinema, the Cult strand should satisfy their needs. It features the European premiere of A Liar's Autobiography, which chronicles the life of Monty Python's Graham Chapman using multiple animation styles.

Stewart has worked tirelessly to produce a compelling programme that features a radically diverse range of visions and filmmaking approaches from a large number of different countries. If she successfully sprinkles a touch of her magic from Sydney, the festival should enhance its reputation as a Mecca for filmmakers and film lovers from around the world.