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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 13:57 GMT
Q&A: Adrian Wootton
Adrian Wootton is in his third year as director of the London Film Festival (LFF). Here he answers questions from BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas about the history and importance of one of the UK's most prestigious and ambitious cultural events.

How did the LFF begin?

It started in 1956 when a group of film critics headed by the famous Dilys Powell - the film critic for the Sunday Times - got together over dinner. They discussed the festivals at Cannes and Venice and agreed that London needed one too.

Its aim was to give the public the opportunity to see great films from around the world that were not being shown in the cinema and certainly not on TV.

There are a number of directors historically - such as John Carpenter of Hallowe'en fame - who say they owe their success to the festival

Adrian Wootton

It started with around 20 films all shown at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank. Gradually the size and significance has grown as the public has become more interested.

Now we have almost 200 feature films of various genres, in multiple venues and 100 short films and several hundred guests.

Who is the festival for?

We do have an important industry and marketing function but the public is definitely the priority. Other festivals are competitive, industry events orientated around press and selling and the public cannot attend.

Our festival is run by the British Film Institute (BFI) and our cultural mission is to grant public access to films which, in the majority, they would not have access to otherwise.

More than 65% of what we show is only to be seen in the UK at the festival. We regard it as being critically important to show people what's going on in the world of cinema.

Does the LFF have an influence on British cinema?

We help in that we provide people with the opportunity to see and talk to film-makers and be enthused and inspired by them. The stars don't just get out of limousines, they introduce their movies and answer questions from the audience.

We also enable young film-makers and short film-makers to talk to scriptwriters and directors and distributors.

As we are primarily a festival for the public, we aim to scoop up the best films that have come out of all the other festivals - we are the festival of festivals

Adrian Wootton

There are a number of directors historically - such as John Carpenter of Hallowe'en fame - who say they owe their success to the festival.

We are very keen to show people the range and diversity of what is available and encourage more film companies and TV companies to buy these films.

How are films selected?

We rely on recommendations from critics, academics, directors and producers. Distributors also submit work and we have people in different territories looking at films.

In every section, we look for a balance of quality, diversity, innovation, the first flowering of new talent and examples of how different countries are experimenting with certain genres. Ultimately, we hope to select the best available work.

Are any types of film considered unacceptable?

We have formal restrictions, for example whether a film is a British première. But there are no restrictions based on category or type as it could mean missing some interesting work.

That said, there is not any extreme horror or pornography because it is unlikely that those types of film produce the quality we want - but we don't rule them out.

How does the content of the LFF compare to other festivals?

As we are primarily a festival for the public, we aim to scoop up the best films that have come out of the other festivals - we are the festival of festivals.

Some of the world's biggest film-makers and stars attend and are pleased to present their work - big US directors like Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh can be joined by the equivalent from around the world

Adrian Wootton

But we also show a range of work that was not ready for those events. So, there will be many films having a European or world première.

Also, our distinct strands make a lot of our films very different from the work shown at Venice, Cannes or Toronto.

We also have a very big archive strand which isn't a key responsibility of an industry festival. It shows the work of archivists and restorers around the world.

How is the LFF regarded by the global film industry?

Some of the world's biggest film-makers attend and are pleased to present their work. Big US directors like Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh can be joined by the equivalent from around the world. The major distribution companies are also enthusiastic as is indicated by their giving us their films for première showings.

How important are short films?

Commercially they are not important at all. They don't make any money. But culturally and in terms of the development of talent and training they are critical. A lot of very good short film-makers go on to become excellent feature film-makers.

The history of British film alone is littered with examples from Ridley Scott to Stephen Frears who made their first short films with the BFI. The British Gala movie this year, Sexy Beast, is a debut feature film for Jonathan Glazer who made a lot of short films.

They are putting out their calling cards and asking to be given the opportunity to become an important feature film-maker.

Also, short films will become increasingly important because of the internet which provides a perfect medium for these films that are quick to download.

How is the surprise film selected?

There will be a shortlist of films that have not come out in time to be part of the main programme. I select one which I think the audience will enjoy most and with which I can have the most fun teasing the audience beforehand.

It is a lot of fun and often the surprise film goes on to be a big international hit - such as The Insider, which was last year's "surprise".

See also:

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22 Mar 99 | e-cyclopedia
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