I went to my first ever London Film Festival in 1989. I've been going every year since. This will therefore be my thirtieth LFF. An anniversary like that makes you ask questions of yourself. Questions like: why on earth have I spent more than half my life doing this?
Coincidentally, someone else has just made a film which answers that question for me.
In 2017, he took his 16mm camera along with him to film the whole process. As he's on the industry list, his experience is different from mine, in part because it's longer - the advance press screenings prior to the public festival stretch it out to almost a month. As he hops from screening to screening, he lets his camera freeze-frame on the people he meets, some of whom I know personally from the Guardian talkboards and MostlyFilm (both Phil and The Artist Formerly Known As FilmFan get a GoodFellasesque introduction here). Mantgani also tells us about the films he saw and what he thought of them, giving you a good insight into his personal tastes. ("Does he actually like Asian cinema?" wondered The Belated Birthday Girl afterwards.)
From what I've described so far, you might think Weeks In The West End sounds like the movie equivalent of what I've been doing in these daily dairies since, ooh, 1998 (another anniversary for you). But there's so much more to the film than that. It's a love letter to London in general, and its cinemas in particular. It's also a record of things that were going on in the outside world while we were all busy watching films - the Weinstein scandal, the Picturehouse strikes, the way the skies over London went all Blade Runner 2049 the day after the LFF finished. (The latter results in one of the neatest visual coups in the movie, one that I'm ashamed to admit only struck me partway through the journey home.) A major thread of the film is how we balance the festival against all the other stuff that happens in our lives. "Every year I have a different festival, and in some way that different festival tells me who I am at that time in my life," says Mantgani in a refrain that crops up several times in his narration. And in the raw torrent of words that makes up almost all the audio of the film, we hear about the people he's met during his seven festivals, and how his relationships with them have changed over time.
Maybe the real London Film Festival was the friends we made along the way. Shit, no, that's terrible. But Mantgani nails one of the things that seems obvious to me but rarely gets said: the LFF is a social occasion, a celebration of watching films with other people rather than on your laptop. He picks up on little details that seem achingly familiar: the circles you draw on your festival programme, the schedules you build in Microsoft Office, the way your normal travel routes become more magical when you've got an anticipated film to see at the other end. It's all part of an overall obsession - possibly a more forgiving word than addiction - to see as many films as we can, in the hope that the next one will make it all worthwhile.
You'd think that a film about a film festival, and this festival in particular, would be an absolute cert for a slot at the LFF. (Let's be honest, films about film festivals are the only reason why Hong Sang-soo has any reputation at all in the UK.). Maybe it wasn't submitted, or maybe all that stuff about the Picturehouse strikes would have played awkwardly. Either way, if you want to see Weeks In The West End for yourself, you'll probably need to follow @mant_a_tangi on Twitter to see if Ian is organising any more screenings or getting it out there by other means. Hopefully, he is: it's a lovely film, it explains why I've been doing this for three decades, and watching it got me into a festival headspace just in time for the start of LFF 2018.
I'll warn you now, coverage of this year's festival may be a little bit less comprehensive than it has been here in previous years. Let's just say that it's an issue relating to pressure of work, though this time it's low pressure rather than high. But thirty festivals on, I'm not going to just stop: so you can still expect a couple of film reviews from me each day, with some bonus ones from guests where available. As Ian Mantgani says, we're all panning for gold here: put on your waders and join me. Watch this space.
- Wednesday October 10th - Asako I & II
- Thursday October 11th - Widows
- Friday October 12th - Freedom Fields, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead
- Saturday October 13th - The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, Doozy, Green Book, The Hummingbird Project
- Sunday October 14th - Gordon And Paddy, Monrovia Indiana, The Quake
- Monday October 15th - The Last Movie, That Time Of Year
- Tuesday October 16th - Accidence, Believer, The Green Fog, Soni
- Wednesday October 17th - Being Frank, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote
- Thursday October 18th - Birds Of Passage, Etangs Noirs
- Friday October 19th - Dead Pigs, Two Plains And A Fancy
- Saturday October 20th - Of Love And Law, The Prey, Shadow
- Sunday October 21st - Long Day's Journey Into Night, Mr SOUL!, My Little Chickadee
- The Wrap Party - a summary of the 62nd festival's highs and lows, by me and The BBG