The LFF is based in central London cinemas, and although the event is largely a showcase for contemporary independent film, the peripheral workshops, director interviews and retrospectives seem to attract an ever greater share of the overall focus.
The festival is a chance to see many films long before a nationwide cinematic release, but the real opportunity here is to visit the BFI Southbank to enjoy a film shown in isolation, without adverts or trailers, and in many cases the director is on hand to give a personal introduction and to hold a Q&A after the showing. The festival's charms become more subtle too; those in the seats around you range from cast and crew, friends of the director, press and industry reps, as well as ardent film fans, so no chance of a ringing mobile phone or anti-social behaviour to interrupt the experience.
Star-spotters are very well catered for, and are probably spoilt for choice. Leicester Square, arguably the festival's focal point, sees at least two premiérs every day over the 16-day period. The whole area is perpetually littered with crowds of fans hoping for a glimpse of someone famous, and it's difficult to walk anywhere without treading on red carpet.
One of the most popular events is the surprise film. No information is given beforehand, and the event usually sells out quickly. Over recent years some surprise films have subsequently become minor blockbusters.
This year the festival opened and closed with two gala events: Eastern Promises and The Darjeeling Limited - both now on general release. In between these giants nestle an eclectic mix, representing 43 different nationalities. Many films are already poised for nationwide release, and just as many others will probably never be heard from again.
Choosing which films to see is difficult. Most films have equal billing and status in the festival programme, meaning it's often impossible to tell a Hollywood production from an experimental arthouse flick. The plot synopsis is all you have to rely on, and the presence of a well-known actor or director usually means nothing.
But perhaps this aspect is one one of the strongest appeals of the festival. Almost all screenings I attended were with modest expectations, and although some films were tough to appreciate, most others turned out to be an unexpected pleasure, usually for very unique reasons. I suppose this revelation hints at the underlying aim of the festival: discovering new talent, and developing an appreciation for bolder, more off-beat and challenging productions.
My pick of the festival:
- Atonement (adapted from the Ian McEwan novel)
- Eastern Promises (visceral thriller from David Cronenberg)
- Ratatouille (CGI animated adventure, Pixar/Disney)
- Control (Joy Division/Ian Curtis biopic)
- Juno (Ellen Page from Hard Candy as a reluctantly pregnant teenager)
- Unrelated (Brits holiday in Tuscany from Joanna Hogg)
- Lust, Caution (1940s espionage thriller from Ang Lee)
- Chaos (sprawling tale of love & corruption on the streets of Cairo)
- Things We Lost In The Fire (Halle Berry copes with the death of her husband)
- Funny Games (Affluent family held hostage on holiday with bizarre motives)