BFI 52nd London Film Festival

As a student, I got free access to the press and industry screenings at this year's London Film Festival. I could also attend daytime (before 5pm) screenings so long as they hadn't sold out. It's a pretty good deal, and one that I'll be sorry to see go once I leave the NFTS.

Student delegate pass for the London Film Festival 2008 Student delegate pass for the London Film Festival 2008

I managed to get to four films in total, all press screenings.

Frost/Nixon was screened at the Odeon in Leicester Square (where a large number of UK/ world premieres are held), and drew quite a large crowd. Having recently taken quite an interest in film adaptations of theatrical pieces (since noticing a dialogue scene in a restaurant in David Hare's My Zinc Bed SCREAM OUT that it was timed for live performance of a certain genre - even though it leant itself well to the discomfort of the on-screen situation), the adaptation of this was superb - notably so since both leads had of course been playing the roles for some time, and would have had to overcome differences within the adaptation. Similarly, the setting didn't seem too 'sceney' - the flow of locations and discussions and character encounters were precise and correct. And whilst I know just about nothing about the historical relevancies and accuracies of the story, enough information was given as was necessary for the plot and genre whilst not labouring it out. Fantastic film, brillliantly structured.

One of the criticisms that student films here often get is that the motivation of characters is missing, or their actions are unbelievable. By the time this point is raised to a significant level, we're usually within the final stages of the edit and the "do we need to reshoot or can we fix it?" question is whispered amongst the significant production crew members.  Of course by that point we're usually so far into the process that either the budget's disappeared in its entirety (along with the contingency and any 'extra funding' occasionally raised on the sly), or we're so far into the woods on a crammed schedule that we can't see the trees for the caterpillars on the leaves. So it's useful to be able to spot it and other common flaws in the work of others, as a known easy pitfall. And I certainly recognised the signs in 1234, a low budget British first feature. Their press release focusses massively on the looks, cast and music... which for a film about a band are all clearly major points and probably the things that a target box office audience would care most about after all (and the music backing/ references are certainly all in place). And it certainly functions as a story - the first half concerning the build-up of the band is great, and the audience at the screening were all along for the ride. But then during the gradual break-up of the band, the film seemed to come apart too. Things which seemed inevitable were treated as surprises, significant actions came either completely out of the blue or after a massive delay during which the pace of the film seemed to slow.... still, it makes it clear just how much I've learnt from making the mistakes that I've made whilst cutting myself.

Director/ Editor Antonio Campos on Afterschool:
I made a short film in 2004 called Buy it now, which was about a teenage girl who sells her virginity on eBay [...] But there was so much rapid cutting and too much music on the soundtrack; it took away from the experience because it felt so cluttered. I decided to make a film about teenagers and do everything in the opposite manner. As opposed to a lot of cutting and a heavy score to try to communicate the sense of adolesence, I decided to watch a confused adolescent in a room, watch two kids talk, observe a conversation between a mother and daughter uninterrupted. And I liked it. I liked watching people.

I had read that before watching the film, and it did help to explain a lot of the decisions... which were often well-judged (a section where the principal of the school is leading a service for the two dead girls is framed for him - and remains so when the mostly much shorter school children go up to deliver their tributes), but did sometimes feel like something he was stubbornly trying to do past the usefulness of the shot. The tribute video which the main character co-shoots and edits is a lesson in editing appropriately for the purpose, though!

Last up was Slumdog Millionaire - Danny Boyle's latest film, set in India and investigating the life of a child from the slums in India who is one question away from winning the top prize in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? And it was fantastic. Gritty, emotional, harrowing, beautiful, funny, human. The overall effect was outstanding. It's not out til next year, and does mark a massive change of pace and scene for its director, but I'd recommend it even above Frost/Nixon for the simultaneous complexity and simplicity of the story.