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Kate Taylor, BFI on Programming The London Film Festival

Image: 'Person to Person'

Kate Taylor is a Film Programmer at the BFI London Film Festival, where she leads on the East Asia selection and supports programme advisors on South Asia, Eastern Europe & Russia, Germany, Short Films and Experimenta. Previously she has worked for the Independent Cinema Office, co-founded the London Short Film Festival, was Festival Director for Abandon Normal Devices, and co-curated Project: New Cinephilia

I can’t remember when I first started taking notes in the cinema, but I have dozens of notebooks full of spidery sentences scrawled in the darkness, spaced out to avoid running over each other and curved to miss the edge of the page. I rarely re-read the notes, but the act of describing the opening scene of every film is a handy habit to tune the brain into working out what a film is, and adjusting a way of viewing into that groove. Recently, alongside writing everything that can be seen and heard in the first few moments of a film, I’ll also identify the season in which the film is set.

The opening shots of Dustin Guy Defa’s PERSON TO PERSON capture seasonal change perfectly. A crisp New York is revealed on a bright new day in late Summer, early Autumn –that moment on the cusp. The kind of day we know in London where half the people on the tube are in puffa jackets and the other half in shorts and both get to be wrong about once an hour. In the film, an ensemble cast navigate a day in the city, where a love of old media (vinyl, newspapers, mechanical watches) jostles with challenges new and eternal – including the trials of teenagerdom, how to deal with confidence tricksters and how to fess up when you’ve done something you shouldn’t on the internet. The film is both very funny and refreshingly optimistic about people’s ability to live in the city with a bit of integrity.

Image: 'A Fantastic Woman'

I’ve been thinking about this very particular time of year, because for most people LFF fever starts at this moment in late-August/early-September. The press gather at Odeon Leicester Square, Festival Director Clare Stewart strides onto the stage and unveils a stellar programme of films from across the world. Filmmaker guests are announced, twitter gives its verdict on the selection, and speculation about the Surprise Film begins. For audiences, ready to colour-code their festival brochure and build elaborate lists and schedules of must-sees, this is the beginning of the process, whereas for the programming team this marks the culmination of months of viewing, discussing, and selecting films.

Rewind to last December. Following the 2016 edition, the wrap-up and a bit of recovery time (including inevitable post-festival flu), the 5-strong programme team (3 programmers, festival director and deputy head of festivals) began building our tracking database of films that may be ready for us in 2017. Scouring announcements in trade magazines, we researched films announced by distributors and studios, and the wider team of 20 programme advisors fed in information on the productions and filmmakers they had been keeping an eye on in their regions.

We split film festival travel between us, heading out to myriad international events and returning with recommendations to discuss with the team. This year Deputy Head of Festivals Tricia Tuttle returned from Sundance with a suitcase full of outstanding American dramas, including Dee Rees’ searing Deep-South racial drama MUDBOUND, the HEATHERS-esque teen black comedy THOROUGHBREDS, and the biting relationship drama GOLDEN EXITS, starring Chloë Sevigny.

Image: 'Beyond The Clouds'

Berlinale brought us a thrillingly edgy selection of world cinema, including our Flare Gala, the invigorating transgender drama A FANTASTIC WOMAN, as well as Chinese animated noir HAVE A NICE DAY and the vigilante feminist thrills of TIGER GIRLAnd on top of the narrative delights of Cannes, we selected a trio of timely documentaries from the French festival, including the warmly hilarious Afghan filmmaking portrait THE PRINCE OF NOTHINGWOOD, Barbet Schroeder’s controversial take on Buddhist anti-Muslim violence on the Rohingya in THE VENERABLE W, and Agnes Varda and JR’s funny and moving creative roadtrip FACES, PLACES

Alongside this we visited national film agencies, met with distributors and sales agents, and looked to our open submissions, in order to discover the freshest films, ready to break out in the Fall festival season. This means we can now present the world premieres of some very exciting UK features, including houseboat Brit mumblecore TIDES, artist Steven Eastwood’s astonishing end-of-life documentary ISLAND, and the politically searing London riots essay film DEAD THE ENDS. From further afield, we include world premieres of Danish ballet thriller DARLING, Iranian master Majid Majidi’s gritty Mumbai-set drama BEYOND THE CLOUDS, and the sensuous Hong Kong tropical-noir THE WHITE GIRL.

Image: 'Mudbound'

Now the Festival is upon us, running 4-15 October, filmmakers are arriving at the airport, and audiences are finally getting to see the films that have made the selection. Tickets are still available for most films, and if you’ve not already mapped out what you’d like to see, a handy tip is to look at the Discovery Pass, enabling audiences who are curious to try out three different under-the-radar films that we recommend for £30.

Right now the programme team are limbering up, getting ready to run between venues and introduce filmmakers to their London audiences. The walk across Waterloo bridge is particularly scenic this time of year, and the finishing touches have just been added to the Festival's temporary cinema, freshly built in Embankment Gardens. I’m looking forward to hearing from audiences about what they think of the films, and to sneaking into the back of the PERSON TO PERSON screening myself, as it plays on 35mm in NFT 1, BFI Southbank in all its Autumnal glory.


BFI London Film Festival

4th-15th October