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The 56th annual BFI London Film Festival will launch next week with a few improvements courtesy of its new director, Aussie Clare Stewart, who’s been in the UK for a year after heading up the Sydney Film Festival for five.

The LFF is looking to flaunt its shiny new style and appeal to a wider audience than ever before based on Stewart’s shake up of the programme, venues and target audience.

She tells TNT the festival is also eager to capitalise on the momentum brought by the Olympics over the past year.

“One of the things I love about what we have just seen happen in London is this incredible, galvanising energy – the idea of success has become fashionable again, and that’s really good for festival culture and for the film industry,” Stewart says. “We are looking forward to riding the curve of that glorious wave.”

Rather than setting up camp in the West End, as in previous years, the LFF has widened its focus to the city as a whole, with events and screenings throughout London and even further afield.

“We’re taking two extraordinary films out to audiences,” Stewart enthuses.

“We’re opening with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, which has its European premiere at Leicester Square, before going out via satellite across the UK to 13 screens and the BFI IMAX.”

Burton will also be in London to walk the red carpet and give an extended introduction to the film.

“We’re doing the same with Crossfire Hurricane, which marks 50 years of the Rolling Stones,” adds Stewart. “And we’ve got the Stones on the red carpet, quite a coup after they were rumoured for the Olympics closing ceremony.”

London’s cultural heart has moved east in recent years and the Olympics brought the sporting world‘s attention to Stratford. The LFF has mirrored this eastwards sprawl with
its new line-up of venues.

“London is a very unique city and the festival has always enjoyed a terrific axis between the commercial movie-going heartland of Leicester Square and the hub of the BFI, Southbank, but this year we are expanding out to more venues across London,“ Stewart says.

”For a number of years there has been a cultural growth in London’s East End, and so it’s timely for us to be introducing new east London venues, such as the Hackney Picturehouse and Rich Mix.”

As well as opening its doors to the city, the festival’s programme has seen a shake up, too. One of its unique selling points has always been its public screening programme, which shows new films – some not out for months – to the movie-loving public as well as the industry.

A new way of labelling film genres will make it easier for punters to choose what kind of movie they’re walking into – Love, Dare, Laugh, Experimental, Thrill, Cult, Journey, Family and Sonic are categories that now shape the event, along with a new Debate banner for issues-based titles.

“Film festivals are a context in which to discover films that create controversy and debate, which is why it’s good we have a section highlighting works doing just that,“ Stewart says, adding that along with the festival’s mainstream and art house sensibilities, it aims to provoke conversation. Calls of ‘biggest festival yet’ are hard to argue with.

Other gala premieres include Ben Affleck’s Argo, the new adaptation of Dickens’ Great Expectations and Bill Murray’s Hyde Park On Hudson.

There will also be 12 flicks in official competition for best film, and works vying for documentary and first feature awards.

Add to that the short films and talks, featuring Marion Cotillard and Salman Rushdie, whose screen writing debut Midnight’s Children is showing.

Leading the charge for Stewart’s home country is the audience-wowing Australian musical The Sapphires.

“I was fortunate to see its premiere at Cannes, which was really exciting as it got a standing ovation,“ Stewart says.

“I’ve just celebrated a year in London and there couldn’t be a more perfect film for me – great comedy man Chris O’Dowd brings the UK side, then there’s the supremely talented [Australian] Jessica Mauboy, and I’m so proud to be introducing it.”


Interview: London Film Festival is making a pitch to attract a broader audience says new festival director, Australian Clare Stewart
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