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BFI London Film Festival Set to Vacate Long-Time Hub of Odeon Leicester Square (EXCLUSIVE)

BFI Southbank
BFI

In recent years, the British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival has become synonymous with the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square, with many of the two-week festival’s screenings taking place in and around the central London venue.

This year, however, Variety can reveal that the festival will take place on the opposite side of the Thames river, at BFI Southbank and Royal Festival Hall, primarily. The festival, which will run from Oct. 6-17, is also currently negotiating additional venues, including Odeon cinemas.

“We are in active discussions with the BFI London Film Festival and look forward to once again supporting the iconic event,” an Odeon spokesperson told Variety.

Leicester Square, however, isn’t a major part of the equation, as it has been historically. Industry insiders have speculated that the late September release of James Bond film “No Time to Die” may play a role in the change of venues.

The much delayed film will open on Sept. 30 at Leicester Square and other Odeon properties, a week ahead of the festival’s Oct. 6 opening.

Sources with knowledge of the move denied Bond’s opening as the reason the festival has decided to vacate its decades-long presence at the Odeon Leicester Square, pointing out that the Odeon group has always juggled commercial programming with festival fare at this flagship venue.

However, with “No Time to Die” already pushed back three times due to the coronavirus pandemic, the stakes are high in terms of persuading audiences to return to cinemas — and to uphold the franchise’s billion-dollar status. For Bond, most exhibitors will want to have as many screens available as possible.

Originally set to premiere in April 2020, the film’s producers tentatively marked their calendars for Nov. 2020, and then April 2021, before eventually landing on Sept. 2021 in the U.K. (Oct. 8 in the U.S.), in order to take advantage of social distancing measures relaxing amid a vaccine rollout.

The move to the South Bank will be a sea change for the London Film Festival, which has been running since 1953 and has long been held in the Leicester Square area — which is known locally as London’s “home of film” — at both the Odeon West End (until the cinema ceased operations in 2015) and the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square.

More recently (pre-COVID), the festival has traditionally opened at the Odeon Luxe Leicester Square. In 2019, for example, it kicked off with the premiere of Armando Iannucci’s “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” starring Dev Patel, at the venue, and at the purpose-built Embankment Garden Cinema in parallel.

The historic venue, dating back to 1937, seats 800 in its main screen and is a magnet for openings and premieres.

Another West End location for the festival is the Odeon Tottenham Court Road, and the festival could well return to this and other tertiary Odeon properties should negotiations be successful.