1996 London Film Festival Wrap-Up
by Jason Silverman
In the London Film Festival's rousing trailer, a massive film can drops into
town and rolls through the city's streets, bringing the bustling city to a
standstill before coming to rest in front of the fest's central venue in
The actual event was not so earth-shattering. Instead, the 40th London Film
Festival seemed to proceed largely unnoticed by Londoners. Crowds were
underwhelming -- only the high-profile evening shows sold out -- and the
atmosphere was casual and low-key.
The festival included nearly 200 new features and documentaries and a dozen
short film programs, with spotlights on new British cinema, U.S.
Independents, and world cinema. High profile films included "The First Wives' Club,"
the opening night film, and closing night flick "Blood And Wine," Bob
Rafelson's new film starring Jack Nicholson.
Notable U.K. premieres included Ken Loach's new "Carla's Song," Stephen Frears'
"The Van," and the Irish "Last Of The High King's," co-scripted by Gabriel Byrne.
Billed partially as a market, the London fest was less than popular with industry members,
who are called, to everyone's amusement, delegates. In past years,
industry delegates congregated and networked in a lounge at the National Film
Theatre (NFT), where screenings are held throughout the day. This year the press
and industry offices were located at a hotel a half-hour away -- one London-based
delegate compared the journey to the festival nerve center with "going to the
The festival did not provide industry mailboxes, and filmmakers were rarely
present at their screenings, making mixing and mingling difficult. The
cramped video screening room, located at the industry office, consisted of 3
monitors and was open only 8 hours a day. Filmmakers also seemed less than
pleased. Austinite George Ratliff bought his own ticket from the U.S., and
then was not picked up at the airport as promised. Arriving at the industry
office, Ratliff opened the festival program to find a random still above the
description of his documentary "Plutonium Circus."
The delegate response to the films was a bit warmer, although the question
"seen anything good?" was as often as not answered by a shrug. Exceptions
included Nick Broomfield's "Wild Fetishes," which documents the filmmaker's
trip into the world of S&M, Clara Law's new "Foreign Moon", and several
excellent restorations -- E.A. DuPont's "Picadilly," F.W. Murnau's "Faust," and
Rene Hervil's "Munuit...Place Pigalle." Other films generating some
excitement were the Australian "Love And Other Catastrophes," the excellent
French "Self Made Hero" and Sundance favorite "Big Night".
Word was mixed on the festival's most controversial film, David Cronenberg's
"Crash". The film caused an uproar among London's self-righteous as British
officials, scandalized by the film's mix of sex and vehicular carnage, called
for its ban. Main festival sponsor The Evening Standard described the film as
"revolting" and "utterly degrading," and then condemned Dirty and Dangerous,
an all-night underground film program. Of course, the Standard didn't bother
watching these classic avant-garde films, and even combined Jack Smith's
"Flaming Creatures" with Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising" to invent an "obscene" film called "Flaming Anger." "People who want to see these films need their heads examined," the paper quoted one official as saying.
The Standard would have better spent its time checking out less sensational
works, such as "Kids Of Survival," a moving documentary about a remarkable
South Bronx arts program, or the Australian "Miniskirted Dynamo," a personal
documentary about a less-than-perfect mother, or any of the dozens of other
hard-to-find niche films that thrived at the small theaters at the NFT.
Expect some changes for the 1997 London fest; director Sheila Whitaker, who
has led the festival for 10 years, is stepping down. Her replacement has not
yet been named.
[Jason Silverman is the programmer at The Taos Talking Picture Festival and
producer of the feature film "Olympia", currently in post-production.]