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Last Updated: Friday, 27 October 2006, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Film-maker Figgis frames London
By Caroline Briggs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

A free screening of A Portrait of London is being shown in Trafalgar Square on Friday as part of the London Film Festival.

Mike Figgis.  Copyright Red Mullet.
Figgis was nominated for an Oscar in 1996 for Leaving Las Vegas

Director Mike Figgis - of Leaving Las Vegas fame - did not mean to get involved with A Portrait of London. Not really.

Approached initially to advise on the ambitious project, he ended up agreeing to "curate" the whole kit and caboodle.

"It was very clever of them," he jokes.

The idea, Figgis explains, was to select British film-makers and artists to make a five-minute "digital postcard" of London that he would edit into a 45-minute film.

The end result - complete with specially commissioned soundtrack - would be projected onto a 120ft screen before Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square and shown free of charge.

I wanted to get a picture of this multi-cultural very big city, very vibrant, full of creativity
Mike Figgis

Figgis, who wanted capture the "real" London in the short films, says he had a very definite vision.

"I'm sick of London being portrayed as this Hugh Grant, quaint, light kind of view of London. It's just not true," he says.

"I wanted to get a picture of this multi-cultural very big city, very vibrant, full of creativity."

Those taking part included British auteur John Boorman, music video director Sophie Muller, documentary maker Sophie Fiennes, and photographer Nick Knight.

"Some are more famous than others and some are just talented young people who are around," says Figgis, who recently directed model Kate Moss in a short film for lingerie company Agent Provocateur.

"I didn't want it to be a showcase for the same old, same old."

All of the films have been stitched together with a soundtrack produced by Roxbury, and the digital images will be projected onto a four-way split screen in front of Nelson's column.

Figgis - himself also a composer - says he wanted a "big range of film music" to accompany the postcards.

Still from A Portrait of London
Directors and artists have contributed to A Portrait of London

"I told everyone 'this is the music, so if you want to do a car chase as part of your contribution, or if you want to do some slapstick comedy then go for it'."

Figgis says the London Film Festival, which runs until 2 November, is a good platform for digital film-makers.

"The LLF has a huge range of films and is definitely looking for all kinds of films," he says.

"Obviously they want the crowd-pleasing ones, and they want the big-profile opens as a coup because they are an international film festival, but they are also very good at finding smaller films and giving them a venue.

"It is not pride based, and it is not party based, it's sort of serious."

'Horse race'

And that, Figgis believes, is where the London Film Festival beats other film festivals hands down.

"Most film festivals are an excuse for a bunch of people to get drunk, have a freebie, and hope they are going to mingle with some lesser personalities. They are just like circuses. The London Film Festival isn't guilty of any of those things.

Mike Figgis 2000 film Timecode
Figgis' film Timecode was one of the first full-length digital films

"Distributors love to put 'Winner of the Palme D'Or, the Silver Bear, the Golden Testicle, whatever it is, and London doesn't do that, and quite right. It's not a horse race, it's a film festival.

"I think the Cannes film festival is a travesty. The sort of films that Cannes now invites in order to pay for the limos and the lifestyle it needs completely negates what it was.

"At least the Oscars are honest - honest, shallow, and forgotten in 24 hours. It's like they invent their own royal wedding every year and move on."

Despite Figgis' praise of the London Film Festival, he sighs when asked about the state of the British film industry as a whole.

"We could certainly do with shedding some of the red tape," he says, "but the British Film industry is always a mess.

"We try and produce Hollywood films so we end up making very limited viewpoints in England.

You block people's creativity and ultimately they will start looking elsewhere
Mike Figgis
"We expect bigger budgets but it actually doesn't cost that much to make interesting films any more. But then you have problems with distribution and all that. It's not a simple problem."

It is the internet - who, by his own admission, Figgis has been "rabbiting on about for the last five years" - he believes holds the key to the future of film-making.

"I think the next five years is going to be really interesting as the internet becomes more user-friendly in terms of the quality.

"I know loads of people are now putting stuff straight onto the internet, then getting a distribution afterwards.

"Necessity is the mother of all invention. You block people's creativity and ultimately they will start looking elsewhere."

A Portrait of London will be shown on Friday at 1900BST in Trafalgar Square, London. A webcast of the event will be streamed live via www.tiscali.co.uk/portraits.

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