Despite a strong lineup of titles and ticket prices held at ’92 levels, the 38th London Film Festival closed Nov. 22 to its first drop in attendance since 1988.

Total admissions during the 17-day, 180-pic event were 71,281, down by more than 5% on the previous year’s 75,489.

However, attendance at the Film on the Square sidebar (mostly big-title screenings at a large downtown theater) rose fractionally, to 23,441.

Commercial competition

Organizers blamed the tix downturn partly on an unusually rich raft of releases at commercial theaters during the period.

According to insiders, however, there is a feeling that the fest, which has mushroomed in size, screens and events under the stewardship of topper Sheila Whitaker during the past seven years, has reached its limit of invention.

Sources said that moving the longtime focus of the fest from the National Film Theater south of the river to a major downtown multiplex north of the river via a four-wall deal is one option for the future.

This would ease hassles of traveling between screening sites.

Fest organizers are to submit ideas for next year’s event early next year.

These could also include plans for a nascent market, probably in the form of fest-long screenings at a separate site. Though buyers have long attended the event, the LFF has always been primarily public-driven.

A final decision on the fest’s future shape will be made around spring by Wilf Stevenson, director of the British Film Institute, which partly bankrolls the event and of which the NFT is a division.

Hometeam favorite

Though non-competitive, for the second year the fest featured an audience-voted award for most popular British pic.

Clear winner was the Welsh-lingo, Russian-set light comedy “Leaving Lenin,” which gets a T10,000 ($ 15,000) cash prize to aid P&A if theatrically released.

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