London Film Festival Director Tricia Tuttle on British Talent, Honors and Downsizing | Characteristics


After the BFI London Film Festival (LFF) 2020, which was massively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, including significantly reduced lineup of features mostly broadcast online, you might think the 2021 edition turned out to be less stressful to plan. After all, in terms of looks and feel, the festival is akin to the model that BFI Festival Director, Tricia Tuttle, delivered in her first two years at the helm – in 2018 and 2019 – and one that ‘she inherited from her predecessor Clare Stewart.

But the truth is different. This year’s schedule of 160 feature films, 75 shorts, eight episodic television works, and 18 titles in the immersive LFF Expanded strand sees the festival return to a large physical footprint – one that was essentially dumped in 2020. This comes at risk. increased in terms of rental costs. – including the expansive Royal Festival Hall Southbank Center, the festival’s new home for galas, special presentations and official competition.

Months ago, as the festival’s format and budget were formulated against the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic, the BFI had to take the plunge and engage in a large-scale physical festival, with all the risks. and the rewards that flow from it. “It was terrifying, actually,” Tuttle said.

In 2020, when screenings in London were confined to BFI Southbank, there were virtually no venue rental fees, and the festival budget was based on two of the three traditional income pillars of the LFF: sponsorship and government funding, removing the box office from the equation. This year the festival needs to sell a lot of physical tickets. In 2020, costs have plummeted, with no talent coming from abroad and a drastically reduced festival staff; this year, overseas delegates and talent are invited.

“At one point, in April or May, the BFI had to say, ‘We hope that we are going to deliver a vision for the festival that matches our long-term strategic goals,” Tuttle said. “But, of course, there is a huge risk. Should we have gone to 30% [audience capacity], like last year, it would be quite ruinous. But we watched it over the summer, and everything has turned in the right direction.

In line with current trends in film exploitation in the UK, the box office operates up to the maximum capacity of theaters, at least in the London theaters, which the festival sells itself. Like last year, the LFF has also partnered with 10 independent cinemas across the UK, including Home Manchester and Glasgow Film Theater, which will sell their own tickets for a selection of up to 16 titles, sharing the revenue with the distributors. (Unlike last year, “there’s a small share for BFI this year,” advises Tuttle. “It’s enough for us to be able to deliver our partnership tickets and for us to have an audience share in these. projections. “)

The partnerships of regional venues reflect one of the strategic objectives of the festival announced in early March 2020, before Covid-19: to extend the festival nationwide; develop the free offer; refine the industry program to focus on showcasing UK talent to international visitors; and adding more series and immersive content to the overall programming mix. Those goals, Tuttle says, have remained in place.

Decide on the footprint

While the 160 feature films in this year’s selection represent a significant increase from last year’s 60, the festival has not returned to its previous size – for example, in 2019 there were 229 feature films.

“It’s 100% curatorial,” Tuttle says of the LFF downsizing. “I’ve been wanting to shrink the feature film schedule for a long time, but it’s very difficult once you map a schedule to a theatrical footprint that already exists. This year was an opportunity to say to ourselves: “This is the number of films we want to program. What does it look like on our site map? It’s totally a question of programming priorities.

With the caveat that the venues will vary from year to year, as they always have with the festival, Tuttle adds: and an in-line element for the film’s schedule, which feels good and achieves everything we want to accomplish with the festival.

At press time, 27 films are being delivered digitally, in addition to receiving physical screenings – “so that we can introduce access for the public, if you live outside London or are not prepared to be in a cinema with a lot of people, ”says Tuttle. Like last year, these titles are available in time slots and geo-blocked in the UK. Tuttle concedes that while she’s sought to strike the right balance with digital selection, ultimately she is indebted to the rights holders for being happy to go. “I wouldn’t say it’s 100% organized, but it’s a shaped program,” she says.

Last year, with 56 of the 60 features available digitally, 40% of the audience came from outside London. The festival reached a total audience of 141,000 people for physical and digital screenings and expanded LFF attendance – including press, industry and education screenings. This number rose to 315,000 when digital conferences and events, available worldwide, are added.

Partnering with the Royal Festival Hall this year solves a problem that has long plagued the festival: Since Odeon Leicester Square closed for renovation in 2018 and reopened a year later with significantly reduced seating capacity, the LFF has lacked a single large auditorium for the gala screenings. Before Covid, the solution was to pair sites with staggered start times, typically using a large Leicester Square cinema and the Embankment Gardens pop-up.

“We have had conversations for several years with many large scale venues in London, about the viability of a) the 12 day takeover and b) how you can transform a large space that is not a cinema in movies, ”Tuttle says.

She credits her colleague Anu Giri, head of festival affairs and operations, with obtaining the agreement of the Royal Festival Hall. The festival sets up an 18-meter screen with 7.1 surround sound, and Tuttle promises “all lines of sight are going to be great.”

“We pay a [hire] fresh, ”she adds. “It’s also a hiring with a cultural partnership around that. “

Global mix

Before unveiling the festival’s main lineup (October 6-17), the BFI announced the opening and closing night films, as well as the main partner American Express gala – the Jeymes Samuel western. The more they fall (a world premiere), the film by Joel Coen Macbeth’s tragedy and that of Jane Campion The power of the dog. All three are streamer-backed titles, and none qualify as British – which raises a few eyebrows in the UK industry.

However, the full schedule has proven to be remarkable for UK films in prominent niches including Kenneth Branagh Belfast, Edgar Wright Last night in Soho, Joanna Hogg’s Remembrance: Part II, that of Eva Husson Mothers Day, at Clio Barnard Ali and Ava, Terence Davies Blessing, Craig Roberts The phantom of the open, UK-Germany co-production by Pablo Larrain Spencer and family gala Ron went wrong, the first feature film from new British studio Locksmith Animation.

Tuttle concedes “there is an expectation” in the UK industry that the opening or closing of the festival will be a UK film. “But opening and closing have to do a lot of different things – and one of them for us is that they have to be a European first or more.”

While highlighting the strong British elements of the festival’s top three titles, including the nationality of The more they fall director Jeymes Samuel and star Idris Elba, the source of Macbeth’s tragedy, and the British elements of The power of the dog (producers Tanya Seghatchian and Iain Canning, and star Benedict Cumberbatch) – Tuttle also comments, “I haven’t watched this year, but it is maybe more British than any top tier we’ve ever presented. . There is a great story of talent and production in the UK here, and all of these films tell an exciting story about what is happening in the UK.

This year’s festival takes place amid a period of flux at the BFI and the UK government. Nadine Dorries was appointed Culture Secretary in September. Tim Richards joined the BFI presidency in February. Mia Bays recently arrived as director of the BFI Film Fund. And the BFI is recruiting for three executive director positions: public program and audiences, technology and digital transformation, and knowledge and collections.

Award season

Over the years, the LFF has benefited from its position in the calendar and geographically as a staple of the awards season, providing the launch of the Bafta campaigns, and with talent taking advantage of the festival occasion to connect. with UK based voters Bafta and Oscar. This was less the case in 2020 with the reduced line-up, and only one of the eight Oscar nominees for best picture – that of Chloe Zhao. Nomadic country – played the festival. Several other LFF 2020 titles, however, including One night in Miami, Another round, Soul, Wolf walkers and Time were all possible Oscar nominees, while Limbo and Mughal Mowgli were in the Bafta mix.

Tuttle calls the relationship with Bafta “symbiotic,” adding: “London is a great place to start a movie. But ultimately, with awards season, I’m not chasing this. When my team picks a movie, we don’t think it’s because it’s going to be part of the awards season conversation. Big movies tend to be part of the awards season conversation, and they spring to mind, so we’re lucky to be in this place.

“It was good last year to see Chloe have this success, but I have no regrets for the awards season movies that have slipped away.”

Tuttle has no plans to go down the path of honorary festival awards or actor spotlighting, as Johnny Depp enjoyed in San Sebastian and Karlovy Vary this year. “I’m not a fan,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m not a Johnny Depp fan. I’m not saying anything about Johnny Depp. But what I will say is that what happened there, for these two festivals, but especially in San Sebastian, is that you end up as the festival director talking something you don’t want to talk about.

“Everyone wants to talk about movies and filmmakers, and I would never want to put anything [like honorary awards in the festival]whether it’s because that person was a controversial person, or because it distracts from those movies. There is so much to be said about the festival itself.

As for the future, “I wish the team didn’t have to reinvent the wheel every year,” says Tuttle. “I can’t wish for a better program than the one we have this year, so everything went well. But it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get here. It exhausts the people trying to produce big international film festivals during a pandemic, as you are constantly changing things. So I would like some stability, please.

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