You've probably realised by now that the London Film Festivals in 1989 and 1990 don't bear much resemblance to the glossy, star-packed event we had in 2008. As Jon noticed from a casual flick through the programme while I was researching this piece, there was a lot more old-school arthouse filth showing in those days: the American independent sector was still finding its feet, and wasn't the dominant force in film festival programming that it is today. Also, those earlier festivals were physically much smaller affairs, with little room for big commercial premieres: most screenings were held at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank, with just the occasional foray into the West End.
1991 was the year that started to change. With the refashioning of the Odeon West End into a two-screen cinema, the LFF saw its opportunity to grab a prime location for the final week of the Festival. It was a huge success, giving them access to passing trade that they just couldn't get on the South Bank. Over the next couple of years, that one week expanded to two: and soon the Odeon had taken over from the NFT as the home of the LFF, with a subsequent skewing of the programme towards more mainstream fare.
It's an arrangement that's just come to a screeching halt - the 2008 Festival turned out to be the last one to be held at the Odeon. By the time this October comes around, work will have commenced on tearing down that entire block of Leicester Square in order to build another hotel. As yet, there's been no announcement about where the 2009 LFF will hold its West End events: perhaps the Vue, or the Curzon Soho, or somewhere else entirely.
In the meantime, back to 1991. Only twenty films in total, with no weekday matinees at all: pressure of work appears to have been the cause. Funny: in my memory I've assumed that I always took loads of time off for the Festival, but it seems that didn't really start happening for at least another couple of years. Still, let's see how those twenty films panned out.