Final Thoughts on the 2019 London Film Festival

Final Thoughts on the 2019 London Film Festival

Every year for the London Film Festival, I either see a whole load of films, or I basically don’t see any at all. This year was in the former category, but even then, I only managed 11 films – although that feels like a lot. Especially if you see three films on a single day. (Yes, I know reviewers see more than this in a day). 

This year the LFF said that they’d ensured that their programme saw 40% of their films having female directors. But I confess that none of the films I saw were directed by a woman. In my defence, my selection of films was made late in the day, and actually who the director was only really mattered to me with one title – The Irishman

I find that my preferred way to pick films to see is to leaf through the printed programme. Then I use some Post-It notes to highlight everything that catches my eye. Given that I won’t have heard of 99% of the titles, I’m relying on the BFI’s brief synopsis to “sell” the film to me. 

Then I go through again, removing some of the Post-Its when I realise that it’ll all get too costly. And there are a few hard decisions to make when I realise that some titles clash with others. Even then, I have to work out what the running time is, factor in a Q&A after most films, and then see if there’s enough time to cross town (or just change seats in the same cinema) to see the next film. 

For the most part, I avoid films that are going to get a wide release fairly soon after the festival, although I don’t always know that ahead of time. So, yes, I saw Official Secrets on the basis of its subject matter, and I hadn’t realised that it’d get a full release the following week. 

In retrospect, I should have checked more closely to see if screenings were for the hard of hearing. Two of the films I saw were, and while that’s a great thing for those who are hard of hearing, I can’t pretend that I don’t find subtitles distracting when I speak the language. HOH subtitles also include sound cues which can be a bit annoying. And they certainly mess up the timing of jokes as you invariably read the subtitles faster than the actors say the lines. 

One theme I did find was that nearly half the films I saw were funded (at least in part) by either Amazon or Netflix. This wasn’t on purpose – for the most part I only found this out when the credits rolled, and introduction mentioned it, or there was a logo on the poster. 

While I would always prefer to watch a cinematic film in the cinema, there’s obviously a trend towards the kind of films that reach festivals becoming “streaming” titles. Studios have basically stopped making these mid-budget titles, and the big streaming platforms are becoming essential. Sometimes they’re commissioning the films themselves; other times, they’re picking up the titles at festivals like Sundance. (It’s worth mentioning that Amazon and Netflix tend to have different release strategies, with Amazon titles much more likely to get a full run, whereas Netflix is often aiming for just a couple of weeks in cinemas  before they hit the platform – something that it becoming much tougher to accomplish in the US. I note that Netflix has hired a Broadway theatre to show The Irishman in New York, since many of the cinema chains won’t play ball with them.) 

After seeing so many films, I can pretty much tell you every shot in that BFI Musicals season trailer that they promoted before every title (Too many shots of La La Land – perhaps trying to appeal to a younger crowd? This version of the trailer is longer than the one shown at LFF screenings.), but I’d like to have a list of the films in LFF trailer itself. 

Nearly every film I saw got an introduction by someone from the BFI, often accompanied by the creators or stars from the film. I was very impressed that this happened with “secondary” screenings, often the day after the big premiere. Indeed, I think only two titles I saw didn’t have anybody with them. 

In retrospect, I should have seen a wider range of international films. Only two of the titles I saw weren’t in English. But that’s my fault. 

I’m not really one for ranking films, but I suppose The Lighthouse, To The Ends of the Earth, Official Secrets and The Irishman all stood out. But I’m aware that there are an awful lot of films that I didn’t see. 

Roll on 2020.