1200 Words | Approximately 6 Minutes Read | Last Modified on December 11, 2018
How to survive the London Film Festival
I like film, and I’ve lived in London for 25 years intending to go to the London film festival, but somehow each year I’ve failed. In 2018 I got my act together, watched a pile of films and had a lot of fun. If you’ve never been but you’d like to know how to survive it, read on.
The festival website says - “225 features. 77 countries. 14 cinemas. 12 days.” - how many films is Too Many Films? Where are all those cinemas? Do you need to be a BFI member?
The London film festival is an annual festival that started in 1956. In 2018 it ran from the 10th to the 21st of October and featured the UK premiers of Widows, Beautiful Boy, Colette and many others. The programme ranges across British and international features with a couple of nights of short and more experimental films as well. There’s comedy, drama, documentary, horror etc - all the genres. Some titles had been shown at The Venice film festival already, which meant I was able to look at some reviews to see what would be worth booking. There’s also a “surprise” film which they show twice, so possibly the second time it’s not such a surprise, but I watched the second showing and went in not knowing what it was. (Green Book. Iffy.)
My pal Garth advised me not to see anything that’s going to get a general release in cinemas eventually anyway, but I couldn’t resist wanting to see things like The Favourite as soon as possible and several months before it’ll be available on general release. Netflix are showing some films in the festival that might get a very limited run in cinemas afterwards, but then will only be available via their service - the festival is your only real chance to see them on the big screen.
Tickets can be booked by the general public, but they’re available to BFI members a week before and available even earlier to BFI “Champions” (really big donors). If you want to see a particular film on a particular day and get a decent seat, then you probably need BFI membership (£35). The galas of the really big films are popular and within minutes of booking opening to members, most of the seats in the giant embankment cinema had gone for their showing of The Favourite. In those first few minutes after opening, the booking website got a bit slow and wobbly. The session timeout is really short so if you don’t get to the checkout pronto, you’ll find that your basket is empty and you’ll have to restart. The seats you’d picked may well have been grabbed by someone else. A further advantage of joining up early as a BFI member is that you’ll be sent a printed programme and calendar in the weeks leading up to the festival.
Too many tickets?
I booked tickets in 3 separate batches. The first time was just as they went on sale to members. I was able to get some good seats to the big gala films Garth told me not to bother with. After that initial flurry I booked a few more some days later. Then just about as the festival was starting I filled in some gaps in my schedule. As the festival started the only things with seats left were the more obscure titles with no-one you’d ever heard of in them. Which is no bad thing.
In all I had tickets to 14 events. 2 were evenings of short films. The first week I watched a film on Wednesday evening, then an evening of short films on Thursday, then 2 films after work on Friday. Saturday morning I watched a 6 episode Netflix series back to back (Buster Scruggs) and just had enough time to leave the venue, buy and eat half a sandwich and get back in again before the next film started. “I’ve booked too many” I thought, but really I loved the excuse to just stay in cinemas for pretty much a whole week. Saturday was the biggest day with 4 features back to back.
All cinemas obviously - some you’ll have been to and some you won’t. The festival erects a giant (approximately 2000 seat) temporary cinema in embankment gardens. Careful with your timings - it’s slow to fill and empty due to bag checks and it being enormous. Some of the seats at the back of the venue don’t have a great view. I loved going to the Cine Lumiere in the Institut français, I didn’t even know there was a cinema there and it’s a very nice one. Rich Mix by the top of brick lane, the BFI IMAX and the ICA were some of the other non-west-end cinemas taking part, so it can be quite spread out.
I don’t think tickets are any cheaper if you’re a BFI member, you just get early booking access. Non-concession prices ranged from £10 to £26. The really big Galas are the most expensive, with weekday matinees and non-West End cinemas being the cheapest option.
The festival experience
I’d never been to a festival before - it’s great being in the cinema with an audience of people who like film! The audience generally applaud at the end and stay until the credits are over. People in the big gala showings tended to act more like a regular cinema audience. Festival films start at the advertised time! Unlike a regular cinema you don’t get 20 minutes of trailers and car adverts. There’s something like a 2 minute festival showreel (that you’ll get bored of after multiple viewings), and then straight into the film. I very nearly missed the start of my first film this way. Perhaps half the time some of the film makers were in attendance, and sometimes they hung around at the end for a Q and A. I enjoyed those so be careful with your timings if you’re watching two films back to back. The possibility of a Q and A wasn’t advertised, so you couldn’t guess which would have it.
I mostly enjoyed the films. The evening of short film in the PCC was surprisingly good. I enjoyed a double bill of Nick Cage going completely bonkers in Mandy and then an entirely different film in the very gripping The Guilty. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma was incredible - I looked around during that super dramatic scene and could see the people around me having a quiet cry. That one has a very limited run after the festival so it was a real treat so see it on the big screen surrounded by enthusiasts.
I won’t miss the festival next year.