London Film Festival director Clare Stewart discusses the easiest and hardest aspects of her role on the eve of the 2014 festival…
The easiest thing about directing BFI London Film Festival: saying, or hearing, YES
When negotiating on a film for the Festival, saying yes is the easiest thing – we know we are creating an opportunity for a film to shine, and for audiences to engage with it, whether that be a high profile, headline gala like our Closing Night Film, David Ayer’s Fury and our American Express Gala, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, or a brilliant ‘discovery’ film for First Feature Competition, like Yann Demange’s ’71 or Miroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe. The adrenaline rush that comes with the ‘yes’ moment and the pleasure that brings for the filmmakers and the companies involved sustains us through the tougher discussions, and the complexity of juggling negotiations on 248 feature films from over 70 countries! And while it’s easy to say ‘yes’ and even better when I hear it on the other end of a phone (I still use that device), there is often a lot of work that has been undertaken to get that response.
For example, we saw our Opening Night Film, The Imitation Game, at a very early stage, and while all the companies involved – the producers, the UK distributor, the international sales company, the US distributor – were immediately enthusiastic about our interest, we still took the pitch very seriously, and put a lot of work into ensuring we would meet everyone’s expectations and that our own needs for Opening Night would also be met. Of course, it was then very easy to take the ‘yes’ call when director Morten Tyldum and stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley were confirmed for our gala! Similarly, when I hear ‘yes’, Abderrahmane Sissako will do a Screen Talk in support of his film Timbuktu and Donnie Yen will come off the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 in New Zealand for the world premiere of Kung Fu Jungle, or I get to say in an interview ‘yes, there are 54 women directors with feature films in our Festival’ – these are all things that feel easy too.
The hardest thing about directing BFI London Film Festival: saying, or hearing, NO
‘No’ is the toughest thing! We see well over 2500 films for Festival programming. Basic maths means we are saying ‘no’ to nine films for every film we say ‘yes’ to. The programming team has a strong appreciation for the creative energy, the resource, the commitment that goes into making a film and saying ‘no’ can be very dispiriting. We do a lot of tracking and researching so there is always the niggling fear that we might put in a lot of hard yards to see a film and then be in a situation where we need to turn around and say ‘no’. Of course it’s also hard to hear it, and a Festival Director’s best kept secrets are the films that get away… which of course I will not be expanding on here! And for the film that almost got away… well you have to sign up for our Surprise Film.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 8th-19th October. For more information, visit http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff