Cannes is arguably the most prominent film festival in the world, considered by many to be the most prestigious, with the ultimate prize of the Palme d’Or seen as being the most glorious of achievement any film could be awarded. It’s not the first festival of the year of course, we’ve had Sundance already in the States, while the Berlinale takes place during February. When attending these events they prove to be as much of a celebration of film as they do the setting they take place in. The whole city comes to life, film fans and critics flock to immerse themselves in the world of storytelling, as well as the wonders of the location. It’s what makes festivals around the world so special; they’re a holiday too.
The best five festivals each year are in Cannes, Berlin, Utah, Toronto and Venice – but how about London? You would think, as a city that is such a hub for all things film and media, it would have a pioneering festival to boot, and yet the annual London Film Festival is a flawed occasion. It works as something of a greatest hits – collating all of the best films from the aforementioned festivals and showing them to audience members who were unlikely to have been able to travel abroad. There are so few world premieres.
Plus the city itself is hardly gripped with festival fever. You could be staying in London through October, when it takes place each year, and have no idea it’s on. In Berlin you can barely walk down the street without seeing the city’s mascot, the big red Bear, adoring street corners, while huge big billboards are up – while there are even trailers shown on the Subway for films that have been carefully selected to be in the line-up. In Cannes, well, the entire place is awash with glitz and glamour, and in Toronto there’s ‘festival street’ where one of the city’s most famous roads is closed off and pedestrianised to mark the occasion, with street performers and pop up vans littered around, celebrating this remarkable art-form.
Yet London doesn’t quite compete. Perhaps it’s because it’s one of the noteworthy places in the world where film premieres already take place on a regular basis. In London’s Leicester Square almost every week there are stars present, showing off their latest venture. So there’s no novelty attached to the festival, there’s more of a ‘been there done that’ vibe.
But that’s not to say there aren’t other festivals in the English capital that are worth keeping an eye out for. In the coming weeks, London stages it’s very own Sundance (aptly titled Sundance London) – a small festival, all taking place in one building, the Picturehouse Central, as programmers pick a handful of the finest films to have come out of the original Sundance, to show them to UK audiences. A worthy event, for these art-house, independent endeavours may not ever get a theatrical release in Britain, and so this presents fans what could their only chance to see these films up on the big screen.
There’s also the East End Film Festival, an annual not-for-profit event which showcases new talent, promoting young, creative voices from within the industry. In the summer there’s FrightFest, which celebrates the horror genre in a unique way, and there’s also Raindance, which is solely for independent filmmakers, granting them a platform to show off their productions, made on such modest sized, shoe-string resources.
So there’s plenty of film festivals on the calender for audience members to keep an eye out for in London, away from the more mainstream LFF every Autumn. And yet still, in spite of this, there’s nothing truly spectacular as we Londoners await out very own Cannes. Maybe we need better weather.