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This year’s edition of the BFI London Film Festival, which starts today, marks Tricia Tuttle’s first in an official capacity as artistic director after she stood in last year while her predecessor was on sabbatical. So what does she have planned?

Tuttle looks back at last year’s performance with satisfaction when, with a total audience of more than 200,000, per screen attendance rose by 12% to an average paid occupancy of 72%, and overall capacity of 84%. This she ascribes to “a strong year for films driving audience interest,” which she believes she’s matched this year with, among 229 feature films, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” opening the festival, and “The Irishman” closing it, and gala screenings including “Knives Out,” “Ford v Ferrari,” “The King” and “Jojo Rabbit.”

Among the festival’s world premieres are Wash Westmoreland’s “Earthquake Bird,” starring Alicia Vikander, Gerard Johnson’s “Muscle,” Michael Caton-Jones’ “Our Ladies,” Thomas Clay’s “Fanny Lye Deliver’d,” and Craig Roberts’ “Eternal Beauty,” with Sally Hawkins delivering a “formidable performance,” Tuttle says.

She also focuses on an “incredible strength in debuts this year,” including French-Senegalese director Mati Diop’s “Atlantics,” and Australian helmer Mirrah Foulkes’ “Judy & Punch.” She adds that “this is one of the strongest years we’ve seen from U.K. debuts,” citing films like Rose Glass’ “Saint Maud” and Nick Rowland’s “Calm With Horses.”

Among the themes Tuttle identifies in the program are the rise of politically-tinged pics and the growing number of genre-bending movies, which come together in the weird Brazilian western “Bacurau” and Jessica Hausner’s unsettling sci-fi drama “Little Joe.”

Tuttle underscores the cosmopolitan nature of both London as a city and the festival itself with 79 countries represented in the lineup, including films from nations whose movie output is sometimes overlooked, such as Bangladesh, Mongolia, Chad and Burkina Faso. With regards to the latter two, she refers to a strong selection of African films. “There’s a real confidence and maturity in African cinema which is super exciting to see,” she says.

The festival continues to push for gender parity in its program, with 40% of all films and 60% of the films in the main competition directed or co-directed by women, but Tuttle emphasizes “we don’t program to quotas […] every filmmaker earned their place here.”

A key objective for her is to create “a lively festival atmosphere,” she says. “London is a tricky city in many ways because there is a lot going on, a lot of competition for interest, but one of the things we’re going to be doing is pulling into the center [of the city] to create a sense of buzz, a sense of festival.”

As part of this effort there will be an emphasis on far bolder branding for the event around the city, and a greater concentration of screenings at its heart, around Leicester Square.

“We want it to feel – whether you are an industry delegate or public audience – that when you walk around you know the festival’s on, and create that sense that you get at other festivals of a really strong festival presence,” she says.

A long-term ambition is to create a festival hub for the public, and a pilot program will take place over two days at the BFI Southbank center with free talks, screenings and club nights for the public, which will be developed further in the years to come.

“We want to keep turning up the dial on the vibrancy, and the diversity of the program,” Tuttle says, adding “a sense of dialogue and debate and atmosphere around the festival is really important to us, and getting audiences engaged […] That collective experience where you can talk about things after you see them and you can engage with ideas in the film is something that we want to build on.”

Industry delegates already have such a hub at the Vue multiplex in Leicester Square, where the majority of industry events and screenings are to be held. The industry program is impressively high powered this year, and reflects an aim to be more international in scope. Among the star attractions are onstage interviews with FilmNation CEO Glen Basner, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, co-presidents of Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B, and Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula, co-chairs of Fox Searchlight.

TIP SHEET
What: BFI London Film Festival
When: Oct. 2-13, 2019
Where: London, U.K.
Web: bfi.org.uk/lff