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London Film Festival 2020

Featuring virtual previews and nationwide screenings

For 63 years the London Film Festival has been a part of the fabric of the British capital, its programme of world premieres and star-studded galas taking place in venues across the West End and South Bank. But the arrival of the coronavirus this year has forced festival organisers at the BFI into a rethink. As a result, the 64th London Film Festival (7-18 October) is the most accessible in its history, offering audiences nationwide the chance to enjoy this celebration of the moving image in a number of different ways. 

For the first time, more than 50 feature films will be available as Virtual Premieres via the BFIplayer, the British Film Institute’s online platform, giving cinéastes the chance to experience swathes of this year’s festival programme from the comfort of their own sofas. To get started you’ll need to sign up for a free BFIplayer account, which entitles you to book £12 ‘tickets’ for online screenings. But be warned, you’ll need to start streaming within 30 minutes of the film’s published start time so don’t be late!

For film buffs who prefer the traditional big-screen festival experience, there’s a multitude of screenings at the state-of-the-art BFI Southbank, and at various partner venues in the capital. A selection of hotly anticipated previews will also be screened at cinemas across the country including Manchester’s Home, Bristol’s Watershed and Nottingham’s Broadway. The festival’s Closing Gala, Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet as renowned paleontologist Mary Anning, is one of a handful of features whose festival premiere coincides with its general UK release date, so you can catch it simultaneously on 17 October at local cinemas including the Empire and Odeon chains. 

As you would expect, all cinema screenings will be subject to enhanced COVID-precautions including reduced capacity, controlled queuing, one-way systems and socially distanced seating.

The festival provides a chance to get first viewing of numerous awards contenders, among them Francis McDormand in Nomadland; Colin Firth in Supernova; and the latest Pixar release, Soul. But the London Film Festival is not all Hollywood A-listers and world premieres; it’s a celebration of all aspects of the moving image. There is a vast programme of free-to-access content including a vibrant collection of Short Films, Experimenta, Q&As, talks and events, all available via BFIplayer or the BFI YouTube channel.

In keeping with this year’s digital-first format, there will also be the launch of LFF Expanded, featuring a free virtual world called ‘The Expanse’, where you’ll find a gallery of immersive 360 video and interactive virtual reality experiences. Explore in person at the BFI’s Blue Room (tickets are free but with limited availability) or from home, ideally with your own Oculus VR headset. 

Another innovation for 2020 will be the festival’s Official Jury being bumped aside to allow the audience to vote for this year’s Festival Awards. Viewers engaging with the event online will be invited to vote on Virtual LFF Audience Awards in four categories: Best Fiction Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film and Best XR.

Acknowledging the difficulties faced by the UK film and cinema industry in the age of COVID, BFI CEO Ben Roberts said: “Although it’s been born out of crisis… we have shaped a festival that suggests a future for bringing filmmakers and film lovers together.” In a week during which the latest James Bond release has been postponed and Cineworld’s closure has been announced, the launch of the visionary 64th London Film Festival promises to be a much-needed shot in the arm for UK cinema. 

London Film Festival 2020 in partnership with American Express, 7-18 October 2020

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