The 56th BFI London Film Festival kicks off today bringing some of the best new films to London. And alongside gala screenings, awards, talks and exhibitions, there’ll be a whole host of A-list actors, directors and producers in town all eager to share their latest work. But for one woman in particular, the festival is a culmination of a year of hard graft. We caught up with BFI Festival Director Clare Stewart to see just how she pulled it all together…
How are you enjoying your new job?
It’s only been a year but it feels like a decade. Or five minutes depending on when you ask me but I’m loving it.
You must be feeling nervous now…
I’m always nervous when the lights go down on opening night. I’ve become an expert in being able to tell at which point I can actually breathe out! It’s usually about the seven minute mark.
So how do you even make a start on selecting the programme?
It’s quite complex. I’m part of a programming team and we go to festivals all over the world like Sundance and Cannes. There, we see films with a view to inviting them to London. We also have lots of meeting with sales agents, distributors and producers and I do a trip to LA every year to meet with the studios and talent agents. It’s a complex process with lots of discussions and negotiations to secure over 200 films AND all the people that go with them.
What are you most looking forward to? Any personal highlights?
I am really excited about opening night. It’s really thrilling to have Tim Burton, Winona Ryder and the voice team from Frankenweenie and to be taking that out to over 30 screens across the UK simultaneously. We’ve got Salman Rushdie doing a screen talk in which he will be really focusing on how you translate your novel to the screen so I’m excited about what he’ll have to say about that process. Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t say as a full bodied woman that I’m very excited that Viggo Mortensen is doing a screen talk as well. I’m also delighted that we will have all four of the women directors from the Official Competition here for their screenings. I have 50,000 highlights so it’s hard to narrow down!
There were no films in official competition at Cannes directed by women. Did you make a conscious decision to celebrate women’s directorial achievements in London?
When you’re making a selection, you have an eye on several different elements but you’re always responding to the film itself. Is it captivating for its audience? In the Official Competition (otherwise known as The Best Film Award) we look for films that are distinctive and imaginative. In this category, there are four female directors represented; Sally Potter with Ginger and Rosa, Deepa Mehta’s Midnight’s Children, Cate Shortland’s Lore and Rama Burshtein with Fill The Void.
How are things changing for women in the film industry?
There are far more bold and diverse roles for women now than there ever used to be. In Rust and Bone, Marion Cotillard plays an incredibly full on role that is already generating Oscar buzz. And in Celeste and Jesse Forever, Rashida Jones plays the lead role and is also one of the co-screenwriters.
Are films all about work for you now? Do you ever go to the cinema just for fun?
I do still go to the cinema. I’ve just been to see Anna Karenina which I totally loved. I thought Keira Knightley’s performance was absolutely knockout and definitely the performance of her career. Weirdly, going to the cinema is still my favourite form of relaxation even though I see about 800 films a year!
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. Book tickets online at bfi.org.uk/lff