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Spank's LFF Diary, Thursday 06/10/2016

London Film Festival 2016

Come back Javier Mariscal, all is forgivenLook, you can photograph it from different angles and spray it with glitter as much as you like, but I think we’ve all had enough of this logotype by now, haven’t we?

It’s my 28th London Film Festival this year, and Clare Stewart’s fifth as director. When she first came on board, many of us long-timers took issue with some of the changes she made – the touchy-feely film categories, the reduced focus on animation, the sidelining of the archive presentations in the printed programme – but we’ve got used to them over the years. Nevertheless, I think the cover of that printed programme deserves a bit of focus at this point.

Two years ago, I wrote a thing for MostlyFilm about what it was like attending the London Film Festival for a quarter of a century. Embedded in that article is a wee collage I made of the LFF programme covers from 1989 to 2014, and it makes for quite instructive viewing. For the first five years of that period, the cover design was handed over to big name artists – Beryl Cook, Peter Blake, Terry Gilliam, Javier Mariscal and Eduardo Paolozzi. Each cover had an incredibly distinctive look, with no single element carried over from one year to the next apart from the odd sponsor logo.

Then in 1994, when the programme changed from an A5 booklet to an oversized magazine format, there was a sudden move away from that aesthetic. From that point onwards, the covers felt more like bits of design than actual works of art. (Though as The Belated Birthday Girl has pointed out, there’s been the odd exception to that rule, such as Wolfgang Tillmanns’ grids of light for the 2001 festival, a design she actually owned on a t-shirt for several years.)

Clare Stewart took over the running of the festival in 2012, and her first year’s programme cover – while being a witty extension of the festival trailer’s evocation of how films make you feel – felt somewhat generic, as if it could be for a film festival anywhere in the world. (Notice how the three covers prior to that are very much about it being a London festival.) Since then, the covers have become even more generic, using minor variations on a single logo for four years on the trot. I’m not saying we should get back to the days of commissioning a big name artist every year (I suspect the BFI’s budget won’t stretch to that any more), but a bit of variation would be nice.

The worst bit of this generic approach to programme design is that an important anniversary is being overlooked – sure, it’s my 28th LFF, and Clare Stewart’s fifth, but it’s the 60th one overall. And there’s literally nothing on this year’s front cover to indicate that (in fact, the festival numbers curiously vanished from the cover at the same time as the introduction of that damn logotype). This is a festival with a past, and a glorious history: but the people running it these days seem to treat each festival as if it’s the first, unconnected with any that may have come before. That seems wrong to me, although that might just be because I’ve been there for nearly half of that history.

Anyway, we still have the films. Twelve days of them, starting today, Wednesday October 5th. Unfortunately, as has been the case on a few occasions in the past, I won’t be around for the start of it, so there won’t be any reviews of the opening night. (Though let’s just say there may eventually be reviews of a more monoglotular nature arising from my current situation.) The good news is, I’ve got a substitute standing in for me on Thursday, and then I’ll be back to give the LFF the daily coverage it deserves from Friday onwards. Watch this space.


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