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LFF + The Last Great Picture Show?

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Anyone who loves cinema knows that magic moment; the lights go down, the message from the British board of film censors tells you the name of the film and how old you need to be to see it. The theme of one of the big Hollywood studios, sounding like it should be the national anthem of a powerful country, booms from the screen. Your carton of popcorn rests untouched in your hand as your anticipation builds. The slightest rustle of a bag of pick ‘n’ mix from the row in front magnifies ten fold in the dark silence, and a dozen voices turn in its direction to angrily shush it. Hush. The magic is about to begin.


For the next two hours or so you’re transported to worlds, even your imagination has never been able to take you to.


Film in the time of Corona


I’ve heard people say that they’ve run out of words to describe the many losses they experience during this global pandemic. Of course, family, friendship and work losses are uppermost in most minds. But the loss of artistic experiences should not be underestimated. The dark, silent theatres, cinemas, concert venues and art galleries are every bit as devastating for our cities and towns as boarded-up shops and closed restaurants. Yes, films can now be watched on a variety of platforms and on ever smaller, individual screens. But nothing matches or beats the thrill of that communal experience of enjoying a film in a packed cinema even with the rustling of family size pouches of Maltesers and the smell of nachos wafting in the air.


The cheers and whoops of delight during an Indiana Jones film in a cinema in Leicester Square, the delighted applause for the return of old favourites during The Force Awakens, tearful sniffs all around me during the song at the end of A Star is Born, a packed Prince Charles cinema belting out Let it go during a Frozen singalong, all are some of the happiest memories I have of trips ‘to the pictures’. Cinema is still one of the cheapest/most fun/romantic nights out with family, friends or lovers.


So, the announcement of the closure, for the rest of 2020, of 127 Cineworld outlets and Picturehouse cinemas came as a bigger blow to many people, including me, than we might have expected. Together with the release dates for such big films as Dune and James BondNo Time To Die, being delayed, it felt like the end of something.


Shortly after, the Odeon chain announced that their cinemas would only open at weekends. The feeling of unwanted change intensified.
Of course, businesses say brightly that they will be back, bigger and stronger than ever and cinema chains remain as bullish as anyone that the good times will roll again, soon. And I’m sure they will. But there is (and has to be) a level of unease about the long-term future of cinema as an experience. With productions halted, theatrical releases postponed, the ongoing uncertainty and health fears, it’s not ‘doom-mongering’ to worry about what the ‘new normal’ will look like for moviegoers in the coming months and years.


Will people simply get used to watching films at home? Will they only venture back into the cinemas for the big Superhero epics, leaving smaller dramas and independent films to vie for viewers on alternative platforms and streaming services? Will funding only go to franchises, known properties and tried and tested filmmakers as producers and financiers become even more risk-averse than usual?

LFF in the time of Covid

The announcement about the cinemas coincided with preview screenings at LFF ‘20. The festival, this year, is online. So, no more rushing to catch an early morning screening of a hot festival headliner. No more catching up with festival friends and colleagues at the BFI to dissect a film after seeing it. No more getting a selfie with an A-lister at a red carpet premiere.
Instead, we are watching the films alone, at home, on whatever device we’re carrying around with us. It has its good points. We can watch a film at our own convenience (within a set window of time) fast forward the boring bits, pause it while we go make a sandwich and rewind to a missed punchline or pivotal part.


But there’s no getting away from it, there is little buzz to this year’s festival. There’s no red carpet glamour. No sense of an occasion. Interviews and panel discussions online, however interesting, feel tired quickly with the time delays and somewhat stilted deliveries without the banter that comes from being in the same space.


However, normal as it is to feel some sadness at the changes, it’s also important not to buy into the ‘death of cinema’ narrative. For as long as there are humans on this planet, there will be stories and storytellers and people who want to enjoy the stories. Film is a magical medium and a good big-screen experience can’t be bettered.

So, if the government restrictions allow and your local cinema is open, go support it, if you can (taking the necessary health precautions, of course).

Here are some of the delights awaiting you in October:

The Oscar, Bafta, Golden Globe-winning Cinema Paradiso is being re-released on the 23rd October. Considered one of the best and most beautiful films ever made this gorgeous gem will re-ignite your love of the big screen.

On the same date, A Call to Spy (also known as Liberte: A Call to Spy) will be released. This is an excellent, well-acted, absorbing story of the first group of females spies trained and used during World War 2 to undermine the Nazi regime in France? It’s one of those small, independent films with a big ambition and it deserves a huge audience. It’s also a very female-led project. Directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher, the producer and lead actress is Sarah Megan Thomas and there are very strong performances in well written supporting roles from Stana Katic and Radhika Apte

Another female-led offering is LFF favourite Relic which comes out in time for Halloween on the 30th of October. Writer, director Natalie Erika James brings an intelligent, heartbreaking touch to the horror genre as she creates an allegory for the painful, debilitating effects of dementia while never forgetting to scare her audience.

Mogul Mowgli has been receiving plaudits at LFF. Co-written and produced by Riz Ahmed who stars in it as well, it too is released on 30th October. Read Darryl Griffith’s review on this site. It sounds like a ‘must-see’.

Also out on that date is Shirley, starring Elizabeth Moss. She is likely to be doing the rounds doing awards season for this performance in which she channels her inner Bette Davies at her most menacing and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. Check out Dion Wyn’s review.

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