Why go to Film Festivals?

lff-2016-title-artwork-750x680_0 “See the best films first” ran the tagline for the 60th BFI London Film Festival. The title was spelled out with gold dust, bespeaking prestige. I’m interested in this concept of exclusivity in the festival’s marketing. The idea is not only to see the best films, nor to see them early, but to see them “first”. Before your friends. Before the cinema going public.

The twelve days of the festival have now finished. During that time I was able to attend ten of the 148 screenings. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the festival and was genuinely sorry to see the closing gala come so fast. So why did I enjoy these events? There’s no question that I saw some of the best films, but how significant is it that I saw these movies “first”? Had I waited just a few months to see these films at regular cinemas I certainly would have saved money. Why do so many people come to these events?

This year the BFI reported a record number of attendees (some 185,000 tickets bought). The increase in numbers is in part due to the construction of a massive new screen in the Victoria Embankment gardens. The screen was erected in just eight days and sat 780 people. The imposing black box with its long red carpet was certainly very noticeable to anyone travelling by Embankment Underground Station. Park Chan Wook remarked that the cinema did not seem very “temporary” to him. It was a very impressive and ostentatious feat of engineering. Indicative of the decadence of the festival.

lff-embankment-garden-cinema-exteriorThe cinemas that take part in the LFF are scattered all over London and do tend to draw attention to themselves. The Odeon in Leicester Square and the BFI Southbank both installed red carpets and velvet ropes which were then policed by security staff in black uniforms. Celebrities can be found arriving in the standard BFI red Peugeot with plenty of press to greet them. Walking into one of these venues with a bright red ticket tucked into your pocket certainly does wonders for the ego.

The pageantry of these screenings can be very distracting. On more than one occasion once the hosts and guests had left the stage and the lights came down I actually felt a little pang of disappointment as we settled in to do something as conventional as “watch a film”. Surely this suggests that this is not an ideal way of seeing the “best films first”. You do also emerge from these screenings to a world that has not seen the film yet. Part of the joy of seeing any film is to discuss them, so what is the benefit of seeing films long before anyone else if not for bragging rights?

Well in fact, it’s not about ego at all. There is a very important aspect to these screenings that must not be overlooked.

By seeing a film at the London Film Festival (or indeed any large film festival) you make an occasion out of going to the cinema. Multiplex cinemas are designed to seat as many people as possible into as many screenings as possible to maximise the sale of tickets. Minimal considerations are made to the experience of the cinema goers. But at the LFF you are greeted by volunteers as soon as you enter the venue. Before the film starts a custodian will come to the front of the auditorium and introduce the film. After the screenings there are often conversations with cast and crew members. The effect of all these little touches is significant: this is film watching as an experience.

For me this recalls childhood feelings towards the cinema. Going to see a film on the big screen was an exception, not a rule. Everything about the experience was beguiling and wonderful. The more frequently you go to the cinema the more likely you are to forget what a incredible thing these shared experiences in dreaming actually are. Film festivals are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate film and be reminded of its power.

As I left the closing gala of the festival I walked past the temporary Embankment Garden Cinema which will shortly be deconstructed. Recalling the premier of Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden I had attended a few weeks earlier I was struck by a sudden melancholy. The next time I walked into a cinema there would be no one to welcome us. No one to introduce the film. Any chocolate found on the seats would certainly not be a pleasant surprise. It would just be a cinema.

Yet perhaps this is a good thing. I will shortly review each of the ten events I attended at the London Film Festival. With only two exceptions I do intend on revisiting these films once they receive a general release and I shall be very interested to see if my experience is any different when sat in my cheap Cineworld seat. Because really all that matters is the film. The affectations of a large scale film festival are utterly intoxicating but ultimately count for nothing unless the films are able to arrest you for their runtime. In this respect I was very lucky at the 60th London Film Festival, but there is nothing to suggest I won’t get just as lucky next week in my local cinema.

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The Truth about University

You may have just finished your A-levels and want to put off having to deal with the real world for another few years. Maybe you’ve been working a shitty monotonous job for the past twenty years and want to change track. Maybe you’re nineteen years old and just woke up in a bale of hay in holland with three other stoners and realise you need to catch the next tugboat back to blighty and try to do something to justify your existence to your parents who have been financing your drug filled, beer soaked gap year for the last three years. If so, welcome back to the internet. It has boobs you know!

So you look through some prospectuseseses and realise that only very attractive white people seem to go to university these days! All casually posing on a lawn, sometimes with their lecturer, all laughing, all the time, jokes that only work when said wearing a t-shirt and sporting a trendy t-shirt and sportier underwear and even sportier beliefs. You’ll see high tech equipment in a classical setting and delight in the contrast! “It’s like Iron man in the mont saint-michel!”, you’ll think, annoyingly. And finally you’ll see some diverse people wearing bright robes and throwing hats in the air and think “THAT COULD BE ME! I could improve my throwing skills in three years, easy”. You fill in your name, address, financial information, penis size, mothers maiden name, date of virginity loss (02/10/06) and how many pitchers you can take before loosing your underwear to a thirty year old business student named Asir.  Send it off, get asked to name two non-family members who can testify that you’re not a total wanker.

So you sign up…fail, and get into another place through clearing, always. You’ll go along and meet fellow escapists and learn fascinating things (assuming you didn’t study maths), wander around campus and think “I’m a part of this place, without me, it would just be another porn shack”. You’ll make friends, go to pubs, gigs and clubs. Maybe you’ll take drugs, fuck a lecturer, or discover what it takes to take on the girls hockey team. You’ll work really hard, put your back into it, pour your heart out and get given little numbers to justify your existence (over 60 means no self-harm tonight). All optional of course, that’s the joy of this place. It’s where you can be you in all your disgusting glory. The chav that used to laugh at you is fixing your car now, the teacher who told you off for wearing mascara to school is wearing fucking jeans! No one is left to stop you from being the you you always thought you should be. And like all opportunities, it’s yours to waste! At leisure. Do as little work as you find medically safe. Or throw yourself in. Sneak a tent into the public library and order in pizzas when the librarian has slipped into yet another coma of tedium. Everything and nothing are both options to consider.

You’ll meet the best friends you’ll ever meet, members for your band, players for your sports and writing partners who seem to bring the magic back to the whole process, to the extent that you start a crappy internet blog together. The companionship you find in these walls may last the rest of your life. But then you graduate. The work is done. You hand in your last essay to the old woman behind the big scary desk, which suddenly seems so small. You leave the last exam hall, throw your pen into the bin on the way out, what’s left to write? You may celebrate. Go to the pub where you see everyone you had met in the last three years, go to the cinema with your lecturer and his surprisingly hot girlfriend with the alarming laugh, and then round off the evening with one last drink before you walk away and realise you may never see everyone together again. You do graduate, you go along to the big ceremony covered from every angle imaginable by thousands of family members, each wi-fied directly to youtube and facebook, ready to upload the kind of thorough pictures you’d more immediately associate with a military reconnaissance mission. You wear the sexy robes, do sexy things like shake an old mans hand and hold a plastic certificate whilst the desperate photographer tries valiantly to make you look like you’ve gained something in the last three years, that you are in some way closer to the picture you saw on the prospectus three years earlier. Then you look around. You look around at this place that for three long years meant everything. And then you leave.

That’s the truth folks. University is like an immense fantasy camp in which you study fantastic things and tell yourself that they will in some way be useful down the line.  Because it doesn’t prepare you for the world. Far from it. The university life is very sweet but the price for this is even greater than the debt you’ve worked your way into over the past three little years. Because it’s an illusion. The vitally important things you learned that will never be used again. The dear and close friends you made live a hundred miles away. The sense of purpose and logic as you progressed from one year to the next, one subject to another, suddenly ends and leaves you to figure it out for yourself. And even remembering all of it whilst writing a crappy, poorly written blog article will pain you greatly filling your belly with tension and your eyes with tears. Because when you throw your hat into the air and it comes crashing down you realise how far you flew, and how far you must now fall.

But you have to take heart really. And there’s no reason not to. If life really does begin at forty then we get to be children for another twenty years. The friends you made are further afield but still closer than ever. The books you read are still on the shelves and reading them connects you to a world you’ve always loved. If you stop smoking, fucking and drinking then you have another sixty years ahead in which to fight, dance, read, watch and hell take up fucking again. Why must we wait until we’re on our last legs to make a bucket list? Make it now and get to it. You took a leap with university, do it again.  In this article I purge myself of every negative thought I might have felt towards the place of my higher education, because you can’t resent a lover for leaving you forever. Far better you remember the good times she gave you. And should anyone read this, considering making the leap and studying something, even something not particularly useful, I can only recommend that you make that leap and for three years make the most of being young, stupid and free. It may not be all down hill afterwards, but it certainly levels out somewhat.

From Nerds Get Bored, we say good luck to you. Boring little maths students, grubby little business folk, nerdy little scientists, awesome little historians. Geologists, linguists, designers and programmers and all the other fledgling human beings out there. The world isn’t good enough, but it’ll do.

P for personal.

(new lists coming soon)