Interviewing the director of the BFI London Film Festival

30 Sep 2021

6 mins
Last Night in Soho
Last Night in Soho

One of our young reporters was lucky enough to sit down recently with Festivals Director for the BFI, Tricia Tuttle, to discuss all that this year's London Film Festival has to offer when it returns from 6-17 October.

The two covered a massive range of subjects including the joy of returning to the cinema, how audiences outside of London can still immerse themselves in the programme, the unique offering for young people, what films hold the most educational value and much more.

Aside from all that they discuss, we would definitely recommend the LFF Schools Programme, which allows primary and secondary schools to access free schools' events, along with specially selected shorts and features, with free curriculum-linked learning resources.

Check out their full conversation below and make sure to also explore the programme for our very own Into Film Festival, which returns this year from 10-26 November.

Young Reporter: First off, a very exciting thing about the festival this year is that you're finally showing films in person again. How do you feel about being back in the cinema?

Tricia Tuttle: I feel really great, very excited and a little bit terrified. Less so now that we've announced the programme and we can see people are coming back but when we first started planning, we were thinking, are people going to be ready? I can't wait for London audiences to experience that again in the Royal Festival Hall because it's a pretty magical experience.

YR: With the festival being a bit of a hybrid this year, you've also got events happening outside of London as well. What sort of things can people in other parts of the UK expect?

TT: Last year, some of the great things that came out were the ways we worked with independent cinemas around the UK. We brought that into the model this year and we're working with ten cinemas that are really spread across the UK. Each of those cinemas was offered sixteen films and they can sub-curate from there to fit their local audience. Anywhere you are at one those ten venues, you get a real taster of what the festival will be like and that includes a few huge galas such as Last Night in Soho and Power of the Dog, but then also things like Drive My Car; one of two films from Hamaguchi who is an incredible emerging Japanese director.

YR: I think it's so incredible making the festival more accessible to those in the UK. Speaking of the films that are screening, obviously programming the festival must be the best job ever because you get to see all of this amazing talent. What goes into selecting the lineup for the festival and what sort of things do you consider?

TT: I won't lie, it is the best job in the world and I work with an incredible team of programmers. Internally we've got four programmers who work on the festival on the film side and then we work with twenty-five programmers outside of the team who consult on different parts of the programme. The way we decide involves a lot of conversation, a lot of viewing and we're always looking for a real mix. Once a week we stop and think about what our mix looks like, what countries aren't being represented and what our gender split looks like. 

YR: The lineup's got some massive films in it but what are some hidden gems?

TT: I would recommend Belle - it's a Japanese anime that's a reworking of Beauty and the Beast set in social media culture, and it's incredible. A great film that I love very much is A Tale of Love and Desire; a French film from a French-Tunisian female filmmaker called Leyla Bouzid and it's a story of two young literature students in university falling in love for the first time. I'd also mention King Richard - I know it's not a hidden gem but it's one that not a lot of people are talking about yet and they will be. It's the biopic of Richard Williams who's the father of Venus and Serena Williams, and his plan of developing his girls into the world class tennis superstars they are today.

YR: How can young people get the most out of the film festival this year?

TT: We have £5 ticket offers for 16-25-year-olds. You have to join a mailing list but then you get emailed all kinds of ticket offers that come up. There are tickets for every single gala so there are super exciting ways to engage without breaking the bank. We also have lots of free ways to engage with the festival, which is increasingly important to us. We're going to have talks and events across the whole of the Southbank (and virtual ones). You can watch an incredible range of short films for free over the twelve days of the festival, so I'd encourage people to go to BFI Player and check out emerging and established filmmakers. There is an incredible programme of UK Directors in the short films so if anyone is interested in becoming a filmmaker and wants to see people that are just one step ahead of them, it's a great place.

YR: Speaking of up-and-coming talent, there's lots of awards and competitions for the festival this year. How can audiences get involved with those?

TT: Last year, we had an audience award for the first time, and we're bringing that back this year. You have to see a film to vote but it's a great way to get involved. We're also trying to lead conversations on Twitter and Instagram, and we really want to hear from people on the work they're seeing.

YR: Do you think those kind of awards are really important then for finding and pushing forward new talent?

TT: Yeah so we have the audience award and we also have the short film award as well. I do think those are moments where we can shine the spotlight on emerging talent. The other award we give is the IWC Filmmaker Bursary Award, and that is an incredible opportunity for a first or second time UK-based feature filmmaker in the festival. The winner of that get £50,000 to develop their next project. There's lots of opportunity for emerging talent to reach an audience and take the next step in their careers.

YR: Lastly, we'd like to signpost some of the best films with educational value for our UK school audiences. What films would you recommend for that?

TT: On the fun end of the spectrum and this is going to surprise you, but I'd say Edgar Wright's Last Night in Soho. It's just packed full of cinema, music and cultural references, and would be a really fun one for teachers to unpick with 16+ students. I'd say Prayers for the Stolen, which is a beautiful Mexican film by a first-time director Tatiana Huezo, and it's about the impact of the cartels in Mexico on a village community. It's a very female centric story, and is about female solidarity and friendship. I think for language students it would be a really great one to see. Again, it's a bit more mature for 16+ students. I'd also say King Richard as it's a wonderful epic sports film about following your dreams.

YR: Thank you so much for talking to us! I'm so excited for the film festival this year and the feeling of being in the cinema again - there's just such a palpable excitement.

We'd certainly echo that sentiment! Festivals with such extensive programmes can sometimes feel a little overwhelming but we hope that Tricia's insights can simplify things a little for both you and your students. There's a whole lot to experience in the next couple of months, first at the London Film Festival and then at the Into Film Festival, so get exploring! 

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