The festival opened with Steve McQueen’s Mangrove and closed with Francis Lee’s Ammonite, capping off its best attended year, with 315,000 people attending (at cinemas or online) from all around the world, compared to 190,000 from last year. This came as quite the pleasant surprise to the organisers, headed by festival director Tricia Tuttle, who had even considered not running the festival this year.
As usual, there were four awards up for grabs for the sixty films presented over the course of the festival: Best Film, Best Documentary, Best Short Film, and Best XR/Immersive Art.
Best Film this year went to Another Round, the new film from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, best known for The Hunt (2020) and Far from the Madding Crowd (2015). The film follows Martin, played by Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, 2006, Rogue One, 2016) a schoolteacher who, along with three of his friends, decides to live life with a constant blood alcohol level of 0.5%. Comedic and life-affirming, Another Round will be well worth checking out when it releases fully on 27th November.
Benjamin Lee’s The Painter and the Thief won Best Documentary. The film follows the aftermath of the theft of Barbora Kysilkova’s paintings from an Oslo gallery. When Kysilkova confronted one of the accused, Karl-Bertil Nordland, and asked why he had stolen the paintings, Nordland replied “Because they were beautiful”. This surprising response led to a bizarre and therapeutic friendship which evolves under the lens of Lee’s camera.
Homoerotic badminton comedy Shuttlecock won Best Short Film. Directed by Tommy Gillard, the short confronts toxic masculinity head on, and highlights Gillard as one to watch.
The success of the festival raises questions about the future of BFI LFF, as well as the future of film festivals in general.
Finally, Best XR/Immersive Art went to To Miss the Ending by Anna West and David Callanan. This experience focused on 5 characters in a dystopian future where the best way for them to survive is to upload their memories in order to reconnect with loved ones via the cloud. The film was made under COVID restrictions, showing the ingenuity of its creators.
The success of the festival raises questions about the future of BFI LFF, as well as the future of film festivals in general. Virtual screenings, while not the ideal why to watch a film, offer new possibilities to broaden the scope of festivals, and allow for far better accessibility. BFI LFF isn’t alone either, the Sheffield Doc Fest went ahead virtually during full lockdown, offering various price options, including an entire strand of documentaries about indigenous Brazilian tribes for free (these films are still available online until 27th November and are well worth checking out). The very first Windrush Caribbean Film Festival is currently taking place online with a donate-what-you-can system, and the upcoming Leeds International Film Festival will have screenings both in Leeds and via their online player.
This could pave the way to festivals from all around the world opening up.
The final financial figures for BFI LFF are yet to be announced, but the huge attendance figures suggest optimism. This will undoubtedly lead to debate as to what the ideal festival format should be, but the blended model of screenings both at cinemas and online looks promising, offering the ideal festival experience to those who can attend in person, but still being accessible to those who can’t. This could hopefully pave the way to festivals from all around the world opening up and allowing all film lovers the chance to experience the too often exclusive festival world.
Featured image credit: @BFI on Twitter