By Ben Falk
It was Tom Hanks who helped say goodbye to the 57th edition of the London Film Festival (LFF), though he was more sartorially elegant as Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr Banks’ than he was as pirate hostage ‘Captain Phillips’, which opened the 2013 extravaganza on 9 October.
‘Banks’ was a world premiere, another example of the Oscar bait that populated this year’s fest, including Judi Dench in ‘Philomena’ to ‘Labor Day’, the latest from Jason Reitman, featuring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.
But it was a Polish film, made by a Pole more used to working in Britain, that claimed the Official Competition’s Best Film prize. ‘Ida’, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, won the hearts of jurors including Danish director Lone Scherfig (‘An Education’) and actor Miranda Richardson, with jury president Philip French giving special praise to its “immersive visual imagery”.
The Grierson Award, which is awarded to the film judged the Festival’s best documentary, went to ‘My Fathers, My Mother And Me’, a portrait of Friedrichshof, the largest commune in Europe.
Meanwhile, Johnny Depp put in a surprise appearance to give Sir Christopher Lee the British Film Institute Fellowship, the Festival’s equivalent of a lifetime achievement award.
All in all, it was a successful second year for Festival Director Clare Stewart, who could boast of a 151,000-strong public audience for the 235 feature films showing. Almost 350 filmmakers visited from around the world, and more than 900 industry delegates participated in the event. Both the opening and closing night screenings were simultaneously shown in 50 cinemas across the country. And BFI Player, the new VOD service, gave viewers a chance to catch up on gossip, red-carpet action and even films themselves.
With awards season heating up, there was impetus from films in the frame to start their voter charm offensive. Carey Mulligan joined the Coen brothers for the centrepiece gala presentation of their ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. Sandra Bullock was in town with Alfonso Cuarón for ‘Gravity’ and Alexander Payne presented the screening of his ‘Nebraska’.
Arab cinema was well represented too. ‘Rags & Tatters’ featured in the Official Competition, an honour for Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla. He attended the festival, saying about the film’s admission, “I feel perfect because after making this film, after losing all this money, it’s great to have a light of hope.”
Audiences reacted positively to the region’s submissions via social media too. “I do recommend the Algerian movie ‘The Rooftops’,” said
danbompa. HerrDirector wrote about another Egyptian entry: “Electro Shaabi. Sensational”, while @sheymab tweeted, “Mohamad Malas’ ‘Ladder to Damascus’ is unlike any other Arab Spring movie, questioning complex political emotions through reverie and desire.”
And above all, that’s what this year’s Festival did best – please its public. Once again, central London throbbed with cinema. People lined up for tickets, waiting behind an incognito Mike Leigh to capture those last few seats to the universally acclaimed ‘12 Years a Slave’ by Steve McQueen.
The London Film Festival has always been a chance for the British capital to show off its cinematic chops. Whether it was the volunteer in the lobby of Leicester Square’s Odeon West End, the PR folks tending to journalists at the BFI Southbank building or the filmmakers chatting over afternoon tea, movies were at the heart of it all.
Roll on next year…