Celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, The Times BFI London Film Festival (LFF) announced a thorough consultation process on its future. Everything was put under the microscope as the event sought the opinions of audiences, industry and media alike: should the festival dates be moved' Should it become competitive'
A year on and there are no major differences in the LFF's structure, date or aims. Calls from senior industry figures - among them UK Film Council chairman Stewart Till - to increase the event's budget (around $6m), move it to the summer and increase the number of world premieres have not been acted on. Some wanted a Cannes-style spectacle in London, but no-one could say how this would be achieved. The LFF remains a 'festival of festivals' - an event which cherry-picks the best films available on the festival circuit and screens them over a 16-day period.
While the LFF stays in its autumn slot, the Edinburgh International Film Festival is moving from late August to a new June berth from next year. "Having a slightly longer gap... between the two festivals is probably a good thing," says Sandra Hebron, artistic director of the LFF.
However this year, London's dates clash with the Rome Film Fest (October 18-27) - although Rome's organisers are promising to avoid an overlap next year. "It's an inconvenience but not a disaster," says Hebron. "We would all be more comfortable if the dates were not at the same time. The sales agents and media and people who want to be at both festivals will have issues with it much more than us as programmers or the public audience."
The LFF remains primarily an audience festival but its perennial challenge is how to make itself relevant to the industry. Hebron acknowledges the LFF has a "responsibility to listen to what the industry wants".
Around 1,000 industry delegates - including sales agents, distributors, producers, TV acquisition executives and film students - are expected at the LFF with the London Development Agency providing funds to invite 15 of those sales agents. Around 150 of the delegates are from overseas.
Industry screenings (October 22-25) will be held at the Curzon Soho cinema. The festival does not have a formal market and its status as an event for acquisitions is relatively inconsequential. The industry office runs on a budget of $163,000 (£80,000) but the festival's industry screenings have been successful in recent years in showcasing films without distributors or sales agents. The last two festivals have seen a number of deals for UK rights: Axiom Films picked up Ryan Fleck's Half Nelson, Dogwoof Pictures acquired Ramin Bahrani's Man Push Cart, Guerrilla Films took Niall Heery's Small Engine Repair and Yume Pictures picked up Garin Nugroho's Opera Jawa.
"Some of the smaller distributors find the industry screenings very useful," says Nigel Cross, industry development manager at the festival.
Distributors confirm there are pickings. The bigger films will already be accounted for but, as Anna Godas, head of sales and acquisitions at Dogwoof says, "For more independent, smaller titles, the festival is interesting."
Chris Barwick, head of marketing at Yume, suggests the LFF played a crucial part in his company's acquisition of Gabriele Salvatores' Quo Vadis, Baby and Jorge Sanchez-Cabezudo's The Night Of The Sunflowers. Artificial Eye found Turkish title Times And Winds, by Reha Erdem, at last year's industry screenings.
This year, the festival is organising a series of industry events, among them Think-Shoot-Distribute (a five-day talent development programme bringing together 25 emerging film-makers with leading film professionals) and Power to the Pixel (a one-day event on digital distribution). Meanwhile, there will be a panel organised by the UK Film Council and the German Federal Film Board exploring how the new UK tax credit can be combined with German fiscal incentives.
London is also cementing its position as a launch pad for Hollywood product. In the past, the LFF has been bypassed by big studio pictures.
Last year, for example, UIP took World Trade Center and Children Of Men to Venice. But this year the world premiere of Robert Redford's Lions For Lambs, starring Tom Cruise, is a particular coup.
"There is increasingly a feeling that Venice is very expensive and not necessarily automatically the best place to launch something," Hebron suggests. "Having said that, Venice is an A-list competitive festival. London is a large, curated festival, primarily for a public audience."
The LFF event opens this year with the UK premiere of David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises starring Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, and closes with Wes Anderson's eagerly awaited The Darjeeling Limited.
Other galas include Ang Lee's Palme d'Or winner Lust, Caution (with Ang due to attend), Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, Sean Penn's Into The Wild and Andrew Dominik's The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone was pulled at the last minute because of perceived similarities between its plot and the case of missing child Madeleine McCann.
Producer Paul Webster suggests the LFF premiere of Eastern Promises is an excellent springboard for the film. Cronenberg - and possibly Mortensen - will attend. "London, because it's so big, is fantastic as a festival and as a distribution launch," Webster says of Eastern Promises' appearance. The film is released through Pathe a week after its screening.