×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Quick-change artistry at London fest

Fest Traveler: London 2012

After revitalizing the struggling Sydney Film Festival, Clare Stewart is facing a very different challenge in taking over the British Film Institute’s buoyant London Film Festival from much-loved former artistic director Sandra Hebron.

“It’s the delicious conundrum of great success,” says Stewart, a confident and outgoing Australian who moved to the U.K. last year to take up the expanded role as the BFI’s head of exhibition.

“I fully accept that I’ve come into a very successful festival, a festival that to all intents and purposes has reached its capacity, and the challenge is how to continue the growth.”

Stewart certainly hasn’t been afraid to make major changes, importing several innovations that she pioneered in Sydney.

She has cut the length of this 56th edition from 16 days to 12. It opens on its usual Wednesday (Oct. 10) with Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” but now closes on a Sunday (Oct. 21) with Mike Newell’s “Great Expectations.”

However, she has increased the spread of venues, expanding from the traditional BFI Southbank and Leicester Square core to farther-flung arthouses, including the Hackney Picturehouse, the Screen on the Green in Islington, the Renoir in Bloomsbury and the Rich Mix in Shoreditch.

As a result, the capacity of the festival has actually risen 18%, including a 40% jump in evening and weekend screenings that are more likely to sell out.

“In a metropolitan festival, it’s different from Park City or the Lido or Cannes, where you have a very controlled geographical space, and the festival is all that’s going on,” Stewart says. “London is a very big cultural marketplace, and one way to ensure awareness of the film festival across the city is actually to expand your physical presence.”

Stewart’s other eye-catching innovation is to do away with sections defined by geographical origin, and replace them with “pathways” according to theme, each with its own flagship gala. There’s Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Sonic and Family, along with Experimenta, Treasures and Shorts.

“We looked very carefully at data to try and see what are the factors that inform audience choice, and right at the top was what a film is about — the genre — ahead of the star, word-of-mouth or reviews,” Stewart says. “A program of 200-plus films can be very daunting, even for the most profoundly tuned cinephile, so we wanted to create a pathway into things people might like.”

The aim is to be “quite surprising and textured” within each strand, she adds.

“For example, Love can be something as broad as romantic love, or the love between family, or a much more challenging notion. We can include (Michael) Haneke’s ‘Amour,’ highly anticipated by the London audience because of its Cannes win, alongside a terrific American indie film like ‘Gimme the Loot,’ Xavier Dolan’s ‘Laurence Anyways,’ which is more confrontational in its approach, and the documentary ‘Love, Marilyn.'”

Stewart has also gathered the fest’s existing prizes — film, first feature and documentary — into formal sections.

“Having a competition section does a lot for the international positioning,” she argues. “It plays to strength of the festival’s position in awards season and gives distributors a stronger capacity to use the awards in their post-festival marketing.”

The films chosen for the official competition “are really pushing creative boundaries and are taking a creative leap that I believe they pull off,” Stewart says. They include Michael Winterbottom’s “Everyday,” Sally Potter’s “Ginger & Rosa,” Deepa Mehta’s “Midnight’s Children,” Martin McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths,” Michel Franco’s “After Lucia,” David Ayer’s “End of Watch,” Rama Burshtein’s “Fill the Void,” Daniele Cipri’s “It Was the Son,” Francois Ozon’s “In the House,” Cate Shortland’s “Lore,” Pablo Larrain’s “No” and Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone.”

The gala films tend to have a broader audience appeal, she adds. These include Dustin Hoffman’s “Quartet,” Paul Andrew Williams’ “Song for Marion,” Roger Michell’s “Hyde Park on Hudson,” Australian musical “The Sapphires,” Ben Affleck’s “Argo” and Ben Lewin’s “The Sessions.”

True Brit films for global aud

As an Aussie, London Film Fest exec director Clare Stewart is keen to underline the British identity of her first slate, represented by its three tentpoles — the opener “Frankenweenie,” the closer Great Expectations” and the midpoint world premiere of “Crossfire Hurricane.”

“I’m mindful that we are telling a very British story,” Stewart says. ” ‘Frankenweenie’ is a glorious cinematic experience, set in America but made here in London by 200 British craftspeople. ‘Great Expectations’ links into the bicentennial celebration of Dickens. ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ is an extraordinary piece of documentary making that tells the story of 50 years of the Rolling Stones and how they impacted on popular culture.

“You could put it down to my excitement at engaging with my new culture, though I was always very involved with British filmmaking in Sydney,” she adds. “If there’s anything to say for the outside perspective, it’s that there’s such a great success going on here to be celebrating.”

Other British highlights include Sally El Hosaini’s “My Brother the Devil,” Tom Shkolnik’s “The Comedians” and Scott Graham’s “Shell,” all in the first feature competition.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Maleficent Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: Why 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Fizzled

    Despite nabbing first place at the domestic box office, Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted significantly below expectations and demonstrated that even the most powerful studio in Hollywood is susceptible to missteps. The follow-up to 2014’s “Maleficent” kicked off in North America with a lackluster $36 million bow, an underwhelming result for a film that [...]

  • Gavel Court Placeholder

    Netflix Movie Scammer Admits to Defrauding Investors Out of $14 Million

    A California man has admitted to defrauding investment groups — nabbing $14 million — by falsely claiming the money would be used to produce a feature film for Netflix. On Oct. 18, Adam Joiner, 41, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court, according to federal authorities. [...]

  • Tio-Yim

    Morelia Film Festival Highlights Mexican Indigenous Women Filmmakers

    This year’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM), with support from a FilmWatch scholarship awarded by the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will host a Mexican Indigenous Filmmakers: Identity and New Narratives forum for women directors. Issues such as diversity, identity, gender equity, inclusion and broader topics such as the challenges of film [...]

  • lighthouse

    Festival Winners, Oscar Hopefuls Vie for BIFA International Award (EXCLUSIVE)

    The long list for the coveted best international picture prize at the British Independent Film Awards includes Cannes Palme d’Or and London Film Festival winners, as well as pictures from Pedro Almodovar, Robert Eggers and Noah Baumbach. Multiple titles that have been submitted to compete for the Oscar for best international feature film are also [...]

  • Parasite

    Mexico’s Cinepolis Launching New Arthouse Distributor with ‘Parasite’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MORELIA, Mexico – There’s a new arthouse player in town. Cinepolis, one of the top exhibitors in the world, is launching a new arthouse film distribution unit in Mexico called Sala de Arte Distribucion. Focusing on auteur films that have premiered at leading film festivals worldwide, Sala de Arte launches in December with “Parasite,” Bong [...]

  • Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola Masterclass,

    Francis Ford Coppola's Slam on Marvel Films Fuels Debate Sparked by Martin Scorsese

    Disparaging remarks by Francis Ford Coppola have further inflamed the debate sparked by Martin Scorsese and his criticism of Marvel and other comic book films. At a press conference in Lyon, France, where he was being honored at the Lumiere festival, the “Godfather” director said he fully agreed with Scorsese’s assessment and went even further [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent and Elle

    China Box Office: Hollywood Sweeps Up With ‘Maleficent’ and ‘Gemini Man’

    The first Hollywood blockbusters to hit China after the country’s big National Day holiday have, as expected, swept away holdover patriotic titles that had previously ruled the box office. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” edged out another new release, “Gemini Man,” to lead the pack with a $22.5 million opening weekend. While Disney’s “Maleficent” arrived in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content