On the eve of this year’s London UK Film Focus (LUFF), running June 25-28, the organisers are in upbeat mood.
One or two Russian buyers may have been struggling to get their visas sorted out in time (apparently because of the backlog in applications caused by the London Olympics). However, there will be more films than usual screening (46 in total as opposed to 41 last year) and the usual mix of around 150 distributors and festival programmers will be in attendance.
The recent mini-boom in new UK-based sales companies has made London even more of a magnet for film buyers. Those recently formed outfits like Embankment, Altitude and Mister Smith Entertainment have all registered for LUFF, even if it’s too early for them to offer screenings.
“LUFF is a very successful event which is really brought in for very little cost when you consider how many people are benefitting from it,” says Helena Mackenzie, Head of Inward Investment & Business Development at Film London, of the BFI-backed event which costs around £150,000 to stage.
Last year’s LUFF titles generated a record $11.5 million in sales with films like Dexter Fletcher’s Wild Bill (later bought by Universal), Felicity Jones-starring rom com Chalet Girl and Irish dancing documentary Jig all screening.
This year’s edition also promises a rich crop. Premieres include Julien Temple’s documentary about London’s music scene, London - The Modern Babylon from Ealing Metro International; Stuart Urban’s macabre comedy May I Kill U? (sold by Moviehouse); and Ashes, directed by Mat Whitecross, and starring Ray Winstone, Jim Sturgess and Leslie Manville (sold by The Works).
Content Film will be screening 8 Minutes Idle, its new romantic comedy about life in a telephone call centre. Content is also premiering Flying Blind, a love story about an older woman and a young Muslim man starring Helen McCrory, and 1950s-set Daphne Du Maurier adaptation The Scapegoat from director Charles Sturridge (of Brideshead Revisited and Lassie fame.)
Not all the films are British. UK sales agents can also screen international titles. Intandem is showing Stephen Gyllenhaal’s Grassroots, a Seattle-set comedy starring Jason Biggs. This is the story an unemployed music critic who makes an outlandish foray into local politics.
“It (LUFF) is a great market because it follows just after Cannes and just before the holiday season. It’s an opportunity to meet buyers before everybody goes off on European holidays,” says Intandem boss Gary Smith. “In terms of Grassroots, we held it back from Cannes because we wanted to give it a premiere at LUFF where it is more select and a lot more informal. The problem with Cannes is that there are so many things screening that it’s easy to get lost.” Grassroots is being released in the US next month by Samuel Goldwyn.
Moviehouse will be showing its Lord of the Flies style Canadian drama I Declare War.
“This is the first time we’ve screened a non-UK film at LUFF,” Moviehouse MD Gary Phillips adds about I Declare War. “It’s a bit of a step into unknown but the reason we screen every year at LUFF is that they (the organisers) get a solid group of buyers to come along and watch the movies. Whether they buy them, that’s down to the movie but they get people into the screenings.”
Like many other sales agents, Phillips points to the captive audience that LUFF provides and to the event’s intimacy. “They get a of group of people along to watch these movies.” He adds that buyers give films “more of a chance” at LUFF than they would be able to at other bigger events.
In the breakthrough section, one title piquing curiosity is Borrowed Time, made through Film London’s low budget scheme Microwave. Directed by Jules Bishop and starring Phil Davis, it’s a buddy movie about the unlikely friendship between a young burglar and the irascible old man whose house he breaks into.
Maverick British director Andrew Kotting’s Swandown, following Kotting and writer Iain Sinclair as they pedal a fibreglass swan from Hastings to Hackney, is also in Breakthrough. This is one of almost a dozen docs in LUFF. “We have had this year a lot more documentaries coming in from bonafide sales companies,” Mackenzie notes of one trend apparent in the UK market.
The majority of the buyers are from Europe but distributors from further afield will also be in town, among them Indomina’s Rob Williams from the US and Katherine Bridle of Transmission from Australia
British pop’s very own prince charming, Adam Ant (the subject of GFM’s new feature doc The Blueblack Hussar), at Monday’s LUFF evening opening reception will spread at least a little stardust on proceedings.
London, Mackenzie declares, is currently the place to be - and LUFF is picking up on the intense interest in the city. “It’s a must-be destination over the summer,” she says, referring to the Jubilee and the Olympics. “There’s a real under-current of excitement.”