When Tricia Tuttle, director of the BFI London Film Festival, arrived in Cannes in July, it was the first time in a long time that she had found herself sitting in a large hall watching a film. The experience, she says, was “incredibly moving.”
Maybe that’s why, when asked what his highlights are from the upcoming LFF (October 6-17), Tuttle doesn’t cite one or two films but the entire festival. “It sounds so obvious, but coming back to theaters – absolutely. And a large-scale physical festival live.
With last year’s LFF being a mostly virtual event, Tuttle and his team were determined to make 2021 accessible in person. But, for this to be possible, they had to make a decision in late May / early June, when most of the UK population still had not been vaccinated and no one was sure if, by the fall, another lockdown could be on the horizon. “We knew we wanted to go back to the movies,” says Tuttle. “Our managing director, Ben Roberts, and the BFI board of directors really supported us on what was a calculated risk.”
Tuttle and his team hope that by the time the festival opens, they will be able to fill the venues to 100% of their capacity but, in any case, the spaces they have chosen, including the Royal Festival Southbank Center lobby, where they built a 59-foot screen, turned up the sound, and installed a 4k projector – are large enough to ensure a robust audience even at limited capacity. Guests and staff will be asked to wear masks in theaters and talent management has its own COVID protocol.
This year’s LFF is a slightly lighter version with 160 films on the schedule, although it turns out to be a deliberate move rather than a pandemic side effect. “We want to spend more time with each filmmaker, more time with each movie and help that movie find its audience,” says Tuttle.
For Tuttle, the public is at the forefront of his mind when creating the LFF. “We are very, very clear that we are an audience festival. This is how we were established, ”she says. The goal is to have a “varied program” ranging from “a major contender of the red carpet season playing against a moving image of an artist or a slow movie or, you know, an animated movie, and they all feel very comfortable “. And while programmers consider whether they can land a European or international premiere, of which there are 20 in the film section this year, “that’s not the deciding factor,” she says.
In this context, the LFF simultaneously presents part of its program on 10 sites across the United Kingdom, notably in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Sheffield. “Which makes [LFF] unique is two things, ”says Tuttle. “First, where we are geographically located, it is a great bridge between North America and English speakers [territories]. It is therefore a geographical and linguistic link with these English-speaking areas of production, but we are also part of Europe.
The other is where LFF, which traditionally takes place in October, fits into the awards season schedule. “It’s become an increasingly important place to bring a film if it has any ambitions for awards season.” Certainly the LFF has always been seen as a launching pad for British films seeking to find audiences in the UK. “We try to achieve the same cultural goals,” Tuttle says of the LFF and the distributors with which people to see a wider range of work.
This is particularly true this year, the LFF expanding its series and its immersive components, including the European premiere of “Succession” Season 3. Did distributors fear that the streamers, whom some consider to be responsible for the exhibitors’ woes, won’t be stealing a lot of slots at the LFF this year? In addition to “The Harder They Fall”, Netflix has a gala screening of “The Power of the Dog” by Jane Campion and “The Tragedy of Macbeth” by Apple is the closing film.
“I hope we’re the type of festival that can support the strategy of any rights holder we work with. There are a lot of different ways to schedule movies and Netflix has been – and has been for a few years – a really good distribution partner doing an amazing job that adds so much to the festival. It’s also impossible to get away from the fact that viewers and creators move smoothly between film and television.
“We are really aware that the public, especially young audiences, don’t make the same kinds of accolades.” She cites Steve McQueen’s “Small Ax” as an example, a BBC / Amazon co-production.
“It’s not just Netflix, you know. Amazon is in space, Apple is in space, Disney Plus, Warner Bros. have their own platform.
Which brings us to one of Cannes’ hottest topics: With streaming on the rise, what’s the future of cinema? Tuttle feels “really optimistic” about independent films. “I really think – I really believe sincerely – that people will continue to want to see films in a collective environment.”
“I think everyone who works in film, and certainly at film festivals, what we love is interacting with the filmmakers and the audience and seeing how the things that you may have seen on a small screen come together. play when you have a large audience there, ”she said. said.
“And just that kind of electricity that you get with an audience seeing things together on a screen is something that I absolutely look forward to.”