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London Film Festival to open without stars, but with new level of accessibility

There will be screenings around the country and virtual premieres.

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A cyclist rides past a sign saying ‘Welcome Back! We’ve Missed You’ displayed above the front of the BFI Southbank cinema in London (Yui Mok/PA)

A cyclist rides past a sign saying ‘Welcome Back! We’ve Missed You’ displayed above the front of the BFI Southbank cinema in London (Yui Mok/PA)

A cyclist rides past a sign saying ‘Welcome Back! We’ve Missed You’ displayed above the front of the BFI Southbank cinema in London (Yui Mok/PA)

The BFI London Film Festival will open today and will be “the most exciting, most accessible, most creative version” possible, the festival director has said.

The celebration of cinema will have an expanded online presence and regional screenings this year, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and concerns over accessibility.

Some 13 of the fifty-plus films will screen in cinemas around the country, and at the BFI Southbank in London, including opening night offering Mangrove, part of Sir Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology for the BBC; which will premiere on Wednesday night without the usual trappings of a red carpet and stars in glamorous ensembles.

Other films will receive virtual premieres on the BFI Player, and the public will also be able to access free talks with the filmmakers and stars including George Clooney and Mangrove actress Letitia Wright.

Tricia Tuttle, director of festivals for the British Film Institute (BFI), said the 2020 festival was designed as a “hybrid model” so it could still go ahead in the event of a second wave of the pandemic that would prevent in-person screenings.

She told the PA news agency: “While the cinemas plan is massively important to us and we passionately believe in the collective viewing experience and we love working with all the cultural venues that we are working with, there is still the London Film Festival even if we have to lockdown – 54 films from over 40 countries on our digital cinema, free talks and events, Q&As with filmmakers, virtual awards – it will still be a festival no matter what happens and it is still the most inclusive ever.

“While I so hope we don’t have to forgo the cinemas programme, we did design the festival knowing that could be a possibility.”

Other films in the line-up include closing night offering Ammonite, starring Saoirse Ronan and Kate Winslet; Supernova, starring Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a couple grappling with the quick progression of dementia; the new Pixar film Soul, featuring the voice of Jamie Foxx; Shirley, starring Elisabeth Moss; One Night In Miami, the directorial debut of actress Regina King, and Mogul Mowgli, starring Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the script; as well as Chloe Zhao’s eagerly anticipated Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand.

Tuttle said many of the films have a social justice message, and added: “Putting together the line-up is always so complex and you never want to have quotas or even programme themes because what you’re trying to do is just find the best work and always make sure there is all kinds of textures, that you are catering for all kinds of taste, that you’re listening to many different perspectives, filmmakers from everywhere, so it is always tricky.

“So it was less that were programming to a theme and more that we were really seeing these interesting themes emerge in so many different places.

“Two things that resonate hugely this year, and we have seen this year on year, it gets bigger and more exciting – an emergence of a generation of really exciting black directors, we have some debuts in the festival like Garrett Bradley’s Time and Yemi Bamiro, alongside very established directors like Steve McQueen and Spike Lee.”

She added: “That is one of the great things is there is such variety of themes and ideas and tones and textures. But alongside that, and not necessarily just from the black filmmakers in the festival, we were also seeing really strong themes of social justice.

“It really feels very relevant this year given all that we have seen happening, but we weren’t so much seeking these films as those films made it very clear that filmmakers are battling with those issues.”

Asked how she hopes to reflect on the festival, she said: “I hope that filmmakers who have had a film in the festival feel like it was a valuable experience, I hope that audiences will have had a chance to see a film that they might not have seen otherwise, that they have been changed or touched by those films in some way.”

She added: “I think we are living in a strange year and we have adapted the festival to respond to this year and it is the most exciting, most accessible, most creative version of the festival that we could possibly have this year, I really believe that and the programme is so good.

“I want people to see something that touches them and maybe changes the way they see the world, even in small ways.”

PA