Now in its eighth edition, London UK Film Focus 2011 (27-30 June) is an event which, on the face of it, seems to have been remarkably untroubled by the recent upheavals in public film funding in the UK.
“LUFF is now very established as a calendar date for buyers and sales companies…it’s an event that everybody wants to come to,” Helena Mackenzie, Head of Inward Investment and Business Development at Film London, says of the market, which showcases British films (and a handful of international titles represented by UK sales agents) to international buyers.
Even so, British sales agents fretted that with the abolition of the UK Film Council (which helped originate LUFF), the event would be allowed to die. As Bankside’s Stephen Kelliher (the new Chair of Film Export UK) puts it, “there is a constant battle in the UK to have sales agents supported in the way that perhaps other sectors of the industry are supported…there was a moment when the changeover with BFI (taking over from the UK Film Council as the lead body for film in the UK) that it looked as if LUFF would not happen this year. ”
The 2010 edition is calculated to have generated $3 million worth of sales. That – backers Film London, the BFI (British Film Institute), The Mayor Of London, UK Trade and Investment and Film Export UK clearly decided – was a worthwhile return on an event that will cost around £160,000 to stage (a small reduction on last year’s figure).
“I wouldn’t say there was a moment that I feared for its future,” says Film London’s Chief Executive Adrian Wootton. “We made a very clear argument that we regarded this (LUFF) as being absolutely critical. It’s an international event. It services a very particular sector in terms of supporting British sales agents and selling British films.”
“I can’t say that we had a great deal of difficulty persuading either the Mayor’s Office or the BFI of the value of the event,” Wootton adds.
Grumbles in its early years that LUFF’s programme was uneven, showcasing smaller British titles that didn’t have the oomph to hold their own in the Cannes market, appear now to have largely subsided.
“When you’ve got a British film that the timing works for, LUFF can be a great market,” says producer Christine Alderson of Ipso Facto. “I know the sales companies really like it. They have people’s attention and people do actually go to screenings.”
This year’s premieres include such high-profile titles as Horrid Henry 3D, starring Anjelica Huston (sold by Protagonist); Drunkboat, starring John Malkovich and John Goodman (sold by GFM); Dana Lustig’s A Thousand Kisses Deep, starring Dougray Scott (sold by Goldcrest); New Zealand title My Wedding And Other Secrets (sold by High Point), Beneath The Darkness, starring Dennis Quaid (sold by The Little Film Company) and Wreckers, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (sold by Content).
In the “Breakthrough” section of films looking for sales agents and distribution, titles include Film London Microwave doc The British Guide To Showing Off, Roger Sargent’s The Libertines – There Are No Innocent Bystanders, about the 2010 Reading Festival reunion of the famously troubled band Carl Barat and Pete Doherty fronted, Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut Wild Bill and Craig Viveiros’s Ghosted starring John Lynch and Martin Compston.
For British sales agents, the attractions of LUFF are self-evident, as 120 international buyers are delivered on their doorstep. These buyers are invited to London, put up in a hotel and then attend three days of intensive screenings at BFI Southbank. Representatives of US companies like Magnolia and IFC are expected in town as are leading European, Asian and Australasian companies, among them Hopscotch. (There are around 300 attendees in all including UK-based distributors, festival programmers and international buyers who pay their own way.)
There is a consensus that LUFF has continued to improve. “Sales companies have woken up to the fact that rather than putting your pictures into the marketplace in Cannes where they get lost, with LUFF you have a partisan audience. They (the buyers) are invited and they’re expected to be there,” says GFM’s Michael Ryan. “There are American buyers and Canadian buyers but they also have the crème de la crème of Europe too. It’s not second and third-wrung people. It’s really the top flight guys.”
Distributors watching Horrid Henry, based on Francesca Simon’s books about the misadventures of a very badly behaved school boy, may be startled by their fellow spectators at the LUFF screening. Producer Rupert Preston of Vertigo Films has recruited 120 school kids from East Dulwich to bolster the audience numbers. “It (Horrid Henry) is a real mainstream, enjoyable movie that doesn’t rely on critics or on a festival presence,” Preston says of the decision to hold the premiere at LUFF.
One sign of belt-tightening is that LUFF’s organisers won’t be taking their guests to a swanky party at a prestigious London landmark as in previous years. “We are being a little bit more conservative this year for obvious financial reasons,” says Mackenzie.
Even so, the UK sales community is clearly delighted that the event has been preserved. “Aside from anything else, it’s an opportunity for the focus to be on UK films and UK companies,” notes Kelliher. “That doesn’t happen with Toronto or Cannes or Berlin.”