FESTIVALS: London Waves, "Beast" and "Riders" Cross the Channel
by Lisa Russell
(indieWIRE/ 11.27.00) --With its new and first-ever title sponsor Regus
("providers of instant offices worldwide") pouring 1
million pounds into this year's festivities, the 44th
annual London Film Festival boasted higher turn-out
rates, a greater number of screenings and venues, and
a much-needed make-over to the blockbuster-heavy
ambiance of Leicester Square. Although many of the
prime-time spots were held by soon-to-be releases,
there were plenty of indie, foreign and experimental
films to choose from for those with more flexible
schedules. Overall, the festival provided a good
wrap-up to the recent back-to-back sequence of film
events in London, following closely behind the
arthouse-heavy Raindance Festival, and the pre-MIFED
While Cameron Crowe's US-smash hit "Almost Famous"
rocked the Opening Gala, it was salsa music that
powered the Closing Night Gala of "Born Romantic" by
British film writer/director, David Kane. Starring
Catherine McCormick in a quirky role, Kane's second
feature film follows the lives of six looking-for-love
loners who find common ground in a taxicab and a salsa
dance floor. United Artists acquired worldwide rights
to the crowd-pleaser during market screenings in
Leading the diversity of UK films at the festival was
the British Gala of "Sexy Beast," directed by the
highly talked about Jonathan Glazer (whose credits
include award-winning music videos). His debut feature
film centers on a plump, leather-skinned, mafia
protagonist who prefers spending time with his adorned
wife at his Spanish villa poolside than getting
involved in another major criminal heist. Sporting
Speedos and bronzed in sun tan oil, Ray Winstone gives
a wonderful performance, opposed to the clich?
ganster-type common to British cinema.
Stephen Frears' Venice and Toronto-acclaimed "Liam,"
which quickly follows his recent hit, "High Fidelity,"
also made some noise with its intimate story of a
young boy caught up in Catholicism and family-turmoil,
leaving many wondering, "Is this the next 'Billy
"About Adam," a "romantic comedy for adults," directed
by Irishman Gerald Stembridge (whose last film was
"Guilt Trip") stars new talent Stuart Townsend as the
fiance of Kate Hudson. As a convincingly charming
Adam, he fulfills his innate desire to "make people
happy" by seducing and pleasing her sisters (and
brother), giving them a few non-traditional lessons
about commitment in the new millennium.
Edinburgh-favorites, "The Last Resort" by Paul
Pawlikowski and "The Low Down" by Jamie Thraves --
both of which recently won recognition at the British
Independent Film Awards -- made a return in London, as
did Bill Eagles' "Beautiful Creatures." Other films
wrapping up the New British Cinema section included
"Wild About Harry" (produced by Mark Crowley of
"Saving Grace"), "When Brendan Met Trudy,"
"Pandeamonium," "Kin," "Like Father" and "Room to
Although the LFF is renowned as a non-competition
festival, it does provide an opportunity for
international societies to recognize new talent.
American director Kenneth Lonergan was the winner of
the BFI (British Film Institute) Sutherland Trophy
award for his debut "You Can Count on Me," while
second place went to Jonathan Glazer for "Sexy Beast."
Toby MacDonald won the Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
award (the largest short film prize in Europe) for his
film, "Je T?ime John Wayne," which was surprisingly
un-graded and partially incomplete. The film that
swept both the Satyajit Ray Foundation Award and the
FIPRESCI International Critics Award (last year won by
Kim Peirce's "Boys Don't Cry") was Jean-Pierre
Sinapi's French far-off comedy, "Uneasy Riders,"
starring Said Taghmaoui ("Hideous Kinky") and Olivier
Gourmet ("Rosetta"). The film is about a group of
disabled people in wheelchairs looking for love, and
finally finding it in a prostitute's trailer.
Favorites of the foreign film section included South
Korean films "Barking Dogs Never Bite" and "Attack the
Gas Station!," a political film with "anarchic,
anti-authoritarian humor" about four disaffected young
men who raid a gas station. Nagesh Kukunoor's
"Bollywood Calling" was an excellent film from India,
as was Argentina's "Dogma treasure, Fuckland" by Jose
Luis Marques. The new Swedish film, "Together," by
Lukas Moodysson of "Show Me Love," earned the
reputation of "one of the most heartening films in the
festival" by Time Out London.
Ben Jacobs made his British debut of Live Projection
Performances with two multimedia events, "Bi-Temporal
Vision: The Sea" and "Ontic Antics Starring Laurel and
Hardy." Developed since the mid-70s, this "live
projection technique" uses two adapted 35mm projectors
to create a "dynamic optical tug-of-war as the mind
tries to resolve what is there with what seems to be
there." It wouldn't be a London festival if it didn't include
a cohort of celebrities to make an entrance. Some of
the bigger names in attendance were Ang Lee promoting
"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," Ellen Burstyn for
"Requeim for a Dream," "The Yards," and "The
Exorcist," John Malkovich for "Shadow of the Vampire,"
Kate Winslet for "Quills," Philip Seymour Hoffman for
many, including David Mamet's new comedy, "State and
Main," Tracey Ullmen in Woody Allen's "Small Time
Crooks," and Kate Hudson for "Almost Famous" and
"About Adam." Unfortunately, James Caan, whose films
"The Way of the Gun" and "The Yards" were screening,
didn't make a public interview and Kathryn Bigelow of
"The Weight of Water" had to cancel her Masterclass.
This year, the London Film Festival has proven more it
is a growing leader in the European festival circuit,
not only because of its glitz and glory, but because
of the opportunity it gives for British and
international directors to seduce the European film
audiences and industry. One only has to look to
examples like Darren Aronofsky, who gave thanks to the
LFF for helping launch "Pi" in Europe, which he says
went on to do better business than in America.
So all is not lost in the heart of Leicester Square.
[Lisa Russell is a freelance writer from New York
based in London.]