For 12 days every fall, the gaze of the world’s movie industry falls not on Hollywood, Cannes or Venice, but London, home to the BFI London Film Festival (October 8-19). The event in the British capital has all the starry elements that we’ve come to expect from major international gatherings of this kind — from red-carpet galas to celebrity sightings and a prestigious awards ceremony — but it’s also got a little something extra all its own — tickets for almost every one of the 300 movie screenings, talks and master classes on this year’s schedule are on sale to everyone, making it the largest public film festival in the UK.
What To Know
Now in its 58th year, the LFF was dreamt up by a group of British movie critics aggrieved that Venice, Cannes and Edinburgh had their own festivals while London did not. That first festival screened only around 15 movies and took place entirely at the National Film Theatre on the Southbank. Now known as the BFI Southbank (it’s still home to the British Film Institute), the venue is no less integral to the LFF than it was nearly six decades ago when the festival was founded. But today it’s joined by an additional 16 venues across the capital, many of which are clustered around Leicester Square in the West End.
The LFF awards — the ceremony includes prizes for Best British Newcomer, Best Film, the Sutherland Award (outstanding directorial debut) and the Grierson Award (top documentary) — are an important element of the event. Twelve features are shortlisted in each category this year, with seven up-and-coming actors, directors and writers nominated for the Best British Newcomer honor. The BFI Fellowship has already been announced, with legendary actor and director Al Pacino scoring the prestigious accolade this year.
Where To Stay
Movie fans hoping to catch as many LFF screenings as possible during their visit to the capital will love the Corinthia Hotel London. Equidistant between Leicester Square and BFI Southbank, this Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel is as convenient as it is luxurious. But there’s another reason to bed down at the Corinthia: the hotel hosted a whole galaxy of stars just last month when Pacino was presented with his BFI Fellowship in the magnificent ballroom. Who knows who you’ll see in the lobby during this 12-day extravaganza?
What To See
Opening this year’s festival is The Imitation Game, a suspenseful drama telling the story of the British mathematician and codebreaker Alan Turing that stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley (October 8-10). It’s one of a number of sure-fire winners peppering the tightly packed schedule. (When you notice a film you’d like to see, act quickly as screenings do tend to sell out.) Other big movies to look out for are Rosewater, the debut picture from Jon Stewart of The Daily Show about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari (October 12, 14 and 16); Wild, which sees Reese Witherspoon in one of her grittiest roles yet, undergoing a 1,100-mile solo hike (October 13, 15-16); Foxcatcher, a psychological thriller starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum that looks at the relationship between wrestlers and their eccentric benefactors (October 16-17); and the recently added The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, an enduring look at love from different angles with James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. McAvoy and director Ned Benson are slated to appear at the UK premiere on October 17.
But as well as offering an early opportunity to see this year’s big Hollywood films, the festival is also a chance to dip a toe into the best of independent cinema from around the world. A few small-budgeted standouts include The Falling, writer/director Carol Morley’s story of friendship and tragedy in an English boarding school in the 1960s (October 11, 13 and 19); Catch Me Daddy, a story about a 17-year-old Pakistani girl on the run from her family (October 16-17 and 19); Hockney: A Life in Pictures, a documentary about British painting great David Hockney (October 9 and 11); and 3 Hearts, the surprising tale of fate and randomness between lovers starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (October 18-19).
Each of the festival’s themed pathways – Love, Debate, Dare, Laugh, Thrill, Cult and Family are some of the categories – features an evening of shorts and a range of timeless movies. We can’t wait to revisit such diverse offerings as the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (October 10, 12-13) and the 1954 animated take on George Orwell’s political allegory Animal Farm (October 12). Look out for the Experimenta category, too, which features provocative and groundbreaking work by risk-taking directors.