How do you stage a film festival during the age of Covid-19? The organisers of this year’s BFI London Film Festival have been grappling with this conundrum since the pandemic struck. And, happily, LFF director Tricia Tuttle and her colleagues have come up with innovative solutions that will allow audiences to engage with the Festival as never before. London’s Leicester Square won’t be abuzz with red carpet premieres this year.
Instead, over the twelve days from 7 – 18th October, film lovers will be able to experience the 2020 Festival online via virtual screenings and events, and in cinemas at BFI Southbank and other select London venues, as well as across the UK, in Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. ‘Although it’s been born out of crisis,’ says BFI CEO Ben Roberts, ‘this year’s edition of the LFF will be our most accessible yet.’
What to expect from this year’s BFI London Film Festival
The Festival opens with the European Premiere of Steve McQueen’s Mangrove, an instalment from the director’s Small Axe six-part anthology series set in London’s West Indian community from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and inspired by real-life people. Letitia Wright from Black Panther, Shaun Parkes and Malachi Kirby head the cast. And the Festival closes with Ammonite, a period love story from God’s Own Country writer-director Francis Lee. Set in Lyme Regis, the film stars Kate Winslet as 19th century palaeontologist Mary Anning and Saorise Ronin as the visiting gentlewoman who falls in love with her.
In total, the LFF will be offering 58 must-watch films from more than 40 countries around the world, organised in the Festival’s familiar strands: Love, Debate, Laugh, Dare, Cult, Journey, Create, Experimenta, Family and Treasures.
This year’s LFF highlights include Supernova, an unusual road movie starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a longtime couple travelling across England in a campervan as they face up to the consequences of diagnosis of early onset dementia; offbeat biopic cum psychodrama Shirley, starring Elisabeth Moss as legendary horror writer Shirley Jackson; The Rider director Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand as a modern-day nomad living on the road in the American West; Kajillionaire, Miranda July’s deadpan comedy featuring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger as a family of unusually creative grifters trying to scam the system; and David Byrne’s American Utopia, Spike Lee’s immersive screen version of the singer’s acclaimed Broadway show.
How to get involved
Every screening will be presented with an intro or Q&A from filmmakers and programmers. The Festival will also include free-to-access Screen Talks with major filmmakers and actors, as well as all online salons. Also free to access is the LFF Expanded strand of XR and Immersive Art, allowing audiences to step into a new dimension of storytelling. Viewers can engage with the Festival in other ways, too.
There isn’t going to be an Official Jury this year. Instead, viewers engaging with the Festival online will be invited to voteVirtual LFF Audience Awards in four categories: Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film, and Best XR.