BFI London Film Festival Retains Role as Launchpad

The BFI London Film Festival is perfectly situated at the start of the fall season, which also happens to be the beginning of awards season, to help shepherd films toward commercial and critical success.

“London Film Festival is still such a prestigious showcase for new films and a fantastic way to launch a film in the U.K.,” says Lia Devlin, head of theatrical at Altitude, which is bringing three films to the LFF this year: Clio Barnard’s “Ali & Ava,” documentary “The Real Charlie Chaplin” and Julia Ducournau’s “Titane,” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in July.

And no doubt it’s the promise of awards season sparkle that has attracted many of the streamers to the festival, with some of the biggest gala screenings — including festival opener “The Harder They Fall,” Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” (both Netflix), and Apple’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth” — given over to films that have already been snapped up by the SVOD giants.

“Where we are in the calendar is unique to us and being part of that award season run-in is great,” says LFF’s director, Tricia Tuttle. “The biggest number of American Academy voters outside of the States are in London so it’s an important place to launch a film. On lots of those bigger award season films it’s an important stop on that process, which I think really benefits us.”

With LFF being an audience-focused festival, there is also the added bonus of seeing how non-industry viewers respond to new fare. “For British films in particular, like ‘Ali & Ava’ and ‘Chaplin,’ there’s something really special about bringing those films home, playing on a sort of home turf, if you like,” adds Devlin. “And audiences and industry experience films very differently. A screening with an audience is, for us as a distributor, a pre-test of how it plays and what the word of mouth is likely to be.”

Of course, for the streamers, who are focused on subscribers rather than box office numbers, word-of-mouth is perhaps less crucial than for traditional theatrical distributors. Although, as Tuttle points out, they are “evolving constantly.”

“I think the very first time that we worked with [Netflix] is like 2014-2015,” she recalls. “So think about how quickly they’ve evolved as a company as well. So they’re driving change, but they’re also trying to figure out their strategies and [it] seems like they’re thinking film to film about which films are going to be released in which ways.”

Could the LFF, which for the first time, is also hosting a red-carpet premiere for a television series, in the form of “Succession” Season 3 — one day envision broadening its mission more explicitly beyond film? Tuttle think it’s unlikely. “We’re not looking to change the remit. We’re just looking to continue to explore the evolution of different types of storytelling. We’re following artists as they move across these forums.”

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