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Interview With London Film Festival Artistic Director Sandra Hebron

Wednesday, October 17---------With the London Film Festival beginning its two week marathon of film premieres, special events, industry gatherings and, of course, parties, Festival Circuit Editor Sandy Mandelberger sat down with London Film Festival Artistic Director Sandra Hebron to get the scoop on this year's festivities. Hebron is the Artistic Director of bfi Film Festivals, responsible for both The Times bfi London Film Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. She began her working life in academia, researching in the fields of sociology and cultural studies. She has worked in independent film exhibition for over fifteen years, and was Cinemas Director at Manchester's Cornerhouse before joining the bfi Festivals Department in 1997. She has made several short films, regularly writes and broadcasts about cinema, and is currently Chair of Lux, the London–based organisation specialising in distributing and promoting artists' films and videos. As anyone reading the following interview will attest, she is a lover of cinema who has a zest for what she does in her day job.

 

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): Are there are new initiatives or programs this year that you would like to let us know about? 

Sandra Hebron (SH): The core of the program remains the same as in previous years - around 180 feature films together with over 100 shorts which aim to show the best of world cinema from the previous 12 months, Alongside these we run education and industry programmes, and a range of special events, masterclasses etc. This year we have two large scale free screenings in Trafalgar Square, presenting work from the BFI's Archive, with a presentation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1929 BLACKMAIL on Thursday 18th October (with live music accompaniment) and a selection of short films representing 100 years of London on Film on Friday 19th October. This year also sees us collaborating with Film London on the first Production Finance Market to take place in London.  

SM: While the Festival is very international in its scope, what UK films are you showing this year and what is the Festival doing to increase the profile of its homegrown films?

SH: The Festival aims to provide the best possible platform for homegrown films by selecting high quality fiction features, documentaries and short films, which screen across the Film on the Square strand (this year it includes Penny Woolcock's EXODUS and Asif Kapadia's FAR NORTH); the New British Cinema strand (this year, four dramas: BATTLE FOR HADITHA, BOY A, JETSAM and UNRELATED, together with four outstanding documentaries: HOLD ME TIGHT LET ME GO, IN PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON and THE ENGLISH SURGEON), including the program London Calling, featuring 8 films produced through Film London's production scheme. We also award a British UK New Talent award, sponsored by Alfred Dunhill, which gives a cash award to an up and coming director, producer or writer.

SMThe Festival calendar has become so crowded. Is it an increasingly difficult challenge to get the films that you want as European or UK Premieres? What qualities of the Festival do you think especially appeal to international filmmakers and distributors?

SH: We aren't finding this a problem - if anything , the fact that profile of the Festival continues to grow is helpful in attracting premieres. Of course as we are not a competitive Festival,  we don't have such an onus to find world premieres, and can concentrate on selecting the strongest titles rather than those which haven't screened elsewhere. London is generally perceived as a useful platform for the  UK and Europe, and our dates are helpful to film companies who are looking for profile within the awards season. Our special screenings for buyers and sellers are designed to aid films in finding a life beyond the festival, and we have found increasing demand for these. One of the qualities of the Festival which is often cited by filmmakers as very positive is the enthusiasm and engagement of our audiences, and we certainly value them! Filmmakers also frequently mention the quality of technical presentation at the venues that we use, the care which is given to their films and the warmth of the guest services here.

SM: The LFF has now passed the 50 year mark. What are some of the initiatives and projects that you are hoping to put into place in the next few years to make the Festival a truly 21st century cultural event?

SH: Really just to continue to improve and refine the organization of the Festival, and to maintain a strong, diverse program. The Festival is hightly reliant on box office receipts and sponsorship, so we're always seeking new sources of funding. We need to be responsive to the needs of our audiences and the wider industry, and events such as Power to the Pixel this year will help us move forward  in new directions. We need to carry on strengthening our professional development, training and education initiatives, and to look at extending access to the Festival as far across London and beyond as we can.

SM: On a personal level, since you have now managed the Festival for a number of years, how do you keep yourself excited and "juiced up"? Are there any particular films or events that you are most looking forward to this year? What are the most pleasurable and most difficult parts of your job?

SH: Staying excited isn't really an issue - I can't imagine NOT being excited at working on the Festival. Seeing a huge number of new films every year, and seeing at first hand the amazing work that's being produced around the world is in itself thrilling. And then being able to present them to audiences who are similarly captivated is so satisfying. There are so many things that I'm looking forward to that  it would be deeply invidious to pick out one or two things - though I  guess it's always particularly pleasurable to welcome certain filmmakers back to the Festival, such as Frederick Wiseman and Todd Haynes. The pleasurable parts of my job are plentiful - it always feels like a privilege to work on an event that at its heart involves spending two weeks talking to some of the world's most creative individuals. I also have the pleasure of working with a team of people who are not only knowledgable and able, but also great fun to hang out, with certainly helps. The odd nice note from audience members is always welcome, and every happy film maker makes me proud for the whole team. The most difficult part is turning down films, especially when they've been made by friends. Also difficult is having no summer to speak of, as our program deadline is August, and discovering that I've reached an age where 15 late nights in a row is a drain on my stamina. And most disappointing is when audiences just don't respond to a film as I've hoped they would - but thankfully that doesn't happen too frequently.

To follow the excitement of this year's London Film Festival, log on to the London Film Festival Dailies site: www.fest21.com/blog/londonfilmfestival.

 

  

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