As another successful edition of the BFI London Film Festival is slowly drawing to a close, the most memorable moments, films, quotes, scenes, sounds and feelings emerge not on-demand but organically and ask to occupy a place in our experience of film festivals; our sense of exhibition and curatorial concepts and practices, but most importantly what it is that we mean when we talk about film and cinema today.
Deserving of appropriate space and time, thoughts, words and images to be accurately depicted and communicated, these moments form instances for reflection and pose a prominent editorial question. Which is the most meaningful way to write about film festivals, the films themselves, and the unique cultural ecosystem they nurture as a curatorial concept and practice, in a post-digital context? Additionally, how is it most appropriate to write about exhibition as encounter, today; reflect on a process that encourages organic exchanges and nurtures its distinct version of film culture in a particular time and place, namely a locus that has been culturally and historically moulded around the big screen, a social viewing experience and the excitement associated with a temporal and contextual notion of the “festival buzz”?
In line with our overall philosophy and editorial approach to cover the BFI London Film Festival in a post-event context, which we first introduced and implemented last year, we will reflect, ponder, and revisit the most meaningful moments, treasured sequences and unforgettable cinematic experiences from this year’s festival edition. Rather than a notion of post-digital-conditioned, in-the-moment production of film critique and suggestions of unmissable films, we focus on all those remarkable films that triggered cinematic experiences which are still lingering in our memories, aesthetic palette, and hearts after the screening.
What is a film festival that transcends the notion of a sum of its parts? Answers to this question might be somewhat obfuscated in the current post-exhibition context. With a deluge of new films and moving image works being disseminated every so often through ubiquitous digital platforms, notions such as “world premiere”, festival “buzz” or “festival edition”, “curation” and “programme sections” are at risk of becoming obsolete. At the same time, it seems as if film festivals themselves, with the exception of very few, are somehow redefining these notions by incorporating elements of the post-digital condition in their programme. It is a common occurrence that many films produced and distributed via digital platforms are having their premiere at an A-list film festival, as big digital platforms have also become producers. Yet, there is something distinct about film festivals that sets them apart from other types of film exhibition that lingers in the minds and hearts of film critics and spectators, albeit in an elusive form; and it is that very ambiguous but alluring figuration that makes film festivals film festivals, films festival films and audiences festival audiences.
This indiscernible element can be linked, in my opinion, to the different expressions of cinema; how cinematic moments emerge as such in relation to a film, a curatorial concept, a specific and sometimes situated exhibition space, the attending audience. Even though it is something palpable during the course of each festival to everyone attending, the particular expression of cinema which each festival proposes, its curatorial or programming choices can be better understood in the form of a postscript, in my opinion. A reflection of meaningful and notable cinematic experiences, as it were, after a particular festival edition has been concluded. The cinematic experiences and films that remain after the dust has settled.
Uniquely positioned as a festival presenting both international and national premieres; showcasing notable films awarded by other A-list film festivals alongside inspiring independent films and new talent, the BFI London Film Festival encourages such an approach. It offers a snapshot of not only the curatorial choices and approach of a particular festival edition, but also a wider consideration of how the concept of film festivals develops and expands today, as well as the modes in which they potentially contribute to the creation and dissemination of cinema and film culture more broadly.
In the articles and reviews that follow in the next few days we will present the most memorable cinematic experiences which were created during the 2023 BFI London Film Festival.
By Eirini Nikopoulou