The 65th BFI London Film Festival in partnership with American Express closed with a star studded finale with the European Premiere of The Tragedy of Macbeth at new Festival venue the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall with director Joel Coen and key cast, including Frances McDormand, in attendance.
Over the 12 days of the Festival, the new Headline Gala venue helped to localise a buzzing new cultural heart for the LFF just South of the river, alongside the BFI’s home at BFI Southbank. Every night saw vibrant red carpets with a truly dazzling array of international talents on stage as well as in the audience, including Jay Z, Beyoncé, Idris Elba, Regina King, George Clooney, Todd Haynes, Dakota Johnson, Corey Hawkins, Liam Payne, Matt Smith, Edgar Wright, Jamie Dornan, Caitrona Balfe, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Murray, Jarvis Cocker, Virgine Efira, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sandra Oh, Olivia Colman, Josh O’Connor, Jessie Buckley, Judi Dench, Brian Cox, Sarah Snook, Riz Ahmed, Kirsten Dunst, Ruth Negga, Rebecca Hall and Rege-Jean Page to name just a few.
The Festival also had audiences back in cinemas over the 12 days with a fresh new model which included dual West End hubs in London, 10 partner cinema venues around the UK, a new live exhibition of Immersive Art and XR at Leake St, Waterloo, as well as virtual programmes of film and XR. There were 139.4k physical attendances at screenings, events and the LFF Expanded exhibition and 152.3K virtual attendances. The Opening Night Gala, THE HARDER THEY FALL, also simultaneously screened at 41 venues around the UK.
BFI London Film Festival Director Tricia Tuttle said: “We are over the moon with the results of this year. The team absolutely exceeded themselves. Of course there were still major challenges but we brought the best of 2020 into our model, presenting physically, digitally, UK-wide and internationally, and of course working with a major new Gala venue partner the Southbank Centre – which was as amazing as we expected it to be. So many people worked together to make this happen. I could not have hoped for better results, and it was great to feel and hear how much it meant to filmmakers, artists, audiences and the industry to be out in force with real vibrancy and a sense of major occasion!”
The 65th edition welcomed over 200 International and British filmmakers, XR artists and series creatives to present their work at venues across the capital. The Festival featured a fantastic range of 161 (includes 2 x Late Additions and the Surprise Film) feature films from both established and emerging talent and hosted 21 World Premieres, 7 International Premieres and 12 European Premieres and welcomed a stellar line up of cast and crew for many of the films. Films from 77 countries around the world; 39% of the programme from female and non-binary directors/creators or co-directors/creators with 40% made by ethnically diverse directors/creators
This year, a new partnership with the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall saw London’s South Bank become the heart of the film festival experience, with this iconic cultural neighbour hosting nightly red carpet gala premieres alongside flagship venue BFI Southbank. Films also screened across a number of other London venue partners and a selected programme was available to audiences at UK-wide cinema partners with a broad range of films from the programme also screening on BFI Player, alongside the in-cinema premieres.
At the annual BFI London Film Festival Awards, which this year were held virtually, on Sunday 17th October the LFF competition winners can be found here.
2021 also saw the return of the popular Audience Award, which was won last year by Thomas Vinterberg’s fantastic Another Round which went on to win Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. This year’s recipient was Mounia Akl for Costa Brava, Lebanon.
The juries were led by acclaimed Never Gonna Snow Again (LFF 2020) and Mug director Małgorzata Szumowska; director, writer, actor and editor Isabel Sandoval whose film Lingua Franca was selected as part of the Festival’s 2019 Official Competition line-up; Bafta winning documentary director Kim Longinotto (Sisters in Law, Pink Saris) and founder and artistic director of immersive theatre company Punchdrunk Felix Barrett and Saint Maud (LFF 2019) director Rose Glass.
LFF Expanded, the Immersive Art and XR strand of the BFI London Film Festival showcased a large variety of cutting-edge immersive projects at the main immersive exhibition venue at 26 Leake St, Waterloo. The programme, presented in partnership with the National Theatre, featured Virtual, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality art works as well as Live Performance and Immersive Sonic Experiences. Highlights included the World Premieres of Academy Award and BAFTA winning director Asif Kapadia’s first foray into VR LAIKA and Eulogy, from Darkfield; Only Expansion, from Duncan Speakman won the LFF’s Immersive Art and XR Award, and Ballet Rambert hosted Future Rites from the Alexander Whitley Dance Company. In addition to the in-person exhibition at various access points around London’s South Bank, a selection of the presented works were showcased online – globally accessible and free of charge – in The Expanse, a virtual museum space accessible via desktop app and via VR headsets. LFF Expanded’s hybrid on-site and remote offerings, as well as its thoughtfully-curated social impact-oriented slate, made for an inclusive, international event.
Insightful Screen Talks were also given by celebrated directors and actors: Anders Danielsen Lie, Jane Campion, Asghar Farhadi and Jesse Armstrong as well as Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Pablo Larrain whose Screen Talks were presented to UK and International audiences via the BFI YouTube channel.
LFF for Free also returned this year with the Festival hosting a number of exciting free short film screenings, XR and immersive experiences, talks and debates talking place at the BFI Southbank including events with filmmakers Michael Winterbottom, Asif Kapadia, Mike Leigh, Jeremy Thomas and Mark Cousins and Founder of Fruit Tree Media and Director of UK Features for Netflix Fiona Lamptey.
The Surprise Film was Mike Mills’ C’mon C’mon, a black and white comedy in which Johnny, an emotionally stunted and softspoken radio journalist, travels the country interviewing a variety of kids about their thoughts concerning their world and their future. The Festival were delighted to welcome actor Woody Norman to present the screening to audiences on the night.
The LFF’s Industry Programme explored the themes of Creativity and Convergence, with discussions and panel events exploring the shifting cultural landscape and the impact of new technologies, welcoming more than 3K industry and media delegates. The BFI London Film Festival 2021 industry programme was supported by The Liberation Initiatives, with other event partners including Doc Society and Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, along with existing partner Film London who returned with a virtual edition of the longstanding Production Finance Market.
The programme opened up opportunities for new business, learning and networking for industry delegates working across the wider screen industries as well as policy makers. These included a headline In-Conversation event with British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful OBE, and Spotlight Conversations with the multi award-winning producer and Co-Founder of Element Pictures, Ed Guiney (The Favourite, Normal People), and independent filmmaking champion and Chief Executive of Doc Society, Jess Search.
Other highlights were an event exploring the versatility of UK writers working across TV, Film and Theatre with three of the most prolific writers working today: Jack Thorne (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Aeronauts, Help); Lucy Prebble (Succession, I Hate Suzie, Secret Diary of a Call Girl); and Steven Knight (Spencer, Peaky Blinders, Locke), as well as sessions looking at the meaning of “truth” in documentary filmmaking; the increasing impact of virtual production on filmmaking; the use of XR in film and series; and the burgeoning business of podcasting.
An array of international industry-leaders including producers, writers, directors, virtual production creatives, XR specialists, and podcast creators offered insights into their fields, including: Steve Ackerman, EVP, Co-Head of Global Podcasts at Sony Music Entertainment; Ryan Beagan, Vice-President of Virtual Production at Warner Bros.; VFX Supervisor Angus Bickerton (The King’s Man); N’Jeri Eaton, Head of Audio/Podcast Programming at Netflix); Ruth Fitzsimons, Managing Director of Podfront UK; Lisa Gray, a TV Executive Producer working with UK Virtual Production specialist, Bild Studios; Rob Herting, CEO of LA-based podcast production house, QCODE; Deepa Mann-Kler, Chief Executive at Neon and Visiting Professor In Immersive Futures at Ulster University NI; and James Whitlam, Managing Director – Episodic at awarding-winning creative studio Framestore. Directors with films screening at the Festival who attended industry panels, included: Jide Tom Akinleminu (When A Farm Goes Aflame); Sam Firth (The Wolf Suit); Ahmet Necdet Cupur (Les Enfants Terrible); Joel Kachi Benson (Noah’s Raft); Natalia Almada (Users). Sacha Wares, Associate Director of the National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio and Digital Innovation Associate at English Touring Theatre whose installation Museum of Austerity screened as part of LFF Expanded also participated in the XR panel alongside the project’s composer, Adrian Lee.
Committed to supporting UK screen-based businesses and talent and increasing opportunities for international collaboration, the 2021 Industry Programme featured a variety of talent development initiatives including: the second edition of the Works-in-Progress showcase for UK films, television and immersive work; the LFF Critics Mentorship Programme; and [email protected] Prior to the opening of the Festival, the BFI also launched a new twitter channel, @BFI_Industry, to deliver the latest screen sector news and updates to press and industry professionals.
LFF for Free also returned this year with the Fetsival hosting a number of exciting free short film screenings, XR and immersive experiences, talks and debates talking place at the BFI Southbank including events with filmmakers Michael Winterbottom, Asif Kapadia, Mike Leigh, Jeremy Thomas and Mark Cousins and Founder of Fruit Tree Media and Director of UK Features for Netflix Fiona Lamptey.
BFI LFF Education, supported by The Liberation Initiatives, returned to this year’s Festival and offered screenings and events to young people across the UK. BFI Film Academy curated a programme of x10 short films and x19 in-venue and online events for this year’s LFF aimed at aspiring screen creatives aged 16-25 with two Film Academy Days supported by Netflix. LFF Schools programme for primary and secondary welcomed young people age 7-18 across the UK to attend online events with LFF industry guests, as well as special access to selected in-venue screenings at BFI Southbank and LFF Expanded’s physical exhibitions.