The LFF Blog: Day Three

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Dave Calhoun wrestles on stage with Julian Schnabel, has lunch with David Cronenberg, watches Ken Livingstone dig deep into his pockets, anticipates Tom Cruise and catches a screening of Joseph Losey‘s ’Eve‘ – all during the first weekend of this year‘s London Film Festival

It’s been a long, long weekend at the London Film Festival – and not just because Friday and Saturday nights’ screenings of the impressive ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’ and Ang Lee’s fascinating ‘Lust, Caution’ totted up over five hours between the two of them. There were parties every night – Saturday’s bash for ‘Lust, Caution’ at the Royal Opera House was especially good – and the days were packed with screenings and events, all of which ended last night with the Time Out Special Screening of ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’.

The director Julian Schnabel was in town to introduce the screening and proved to be a larger-than-life presence, wandering around the platform during the Q&A, trying to keep the light out of his eyes, suggesting that the audience change seats and offering extended answers to every question thrown at him. He may be hard to handle – trust me, I was the one trying to interview him on stage – but you never doubt that you’re in the presence of a man who has a singular vision of storytelling and knows how to achieve it on screen. Just look at his film – an adaptation of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of the same name: it’s got Schnabel’s imaginative, challenging stamp all over it.

Rewind to the beginning of the weekend, and the Canadian High Commissioner threw a lunch for David Cronenberg at his residence in Grosvenor Square on Friday. The commissioner explained that he and his wife were once stationed in Soviet Moscow and praised Cronenberg for the quality of the Russian spoken in ‘Eastern Promises’ – ‘quite good,’ he said. Guests at the lunch included Miranda Richardson, who worked with the Canadian director on ‘Spider’, former culture secretary Chris Smith, ’60s luminary Peter Whitehead, Southbank head honcho Jude Kelly and the leading geneticist Steve Jones, who was slightly puzzled by the invitation. ‘The only link I can imagine between myself and Cronenberg is that he once directed a film called “The Fly” and I’m an expert on the fruit fly,’ suggested Jones before launching into conversation with Cronenberg about the director’s plans to stage an opera of ‘The Fly’ in Paris and Los Angeles next year.

The good news keeps coming at the LFF. First, BFI chair Anthony Minghella took the opportunity of the opening-night gala to announce a grant of £25 million from the government to restore the country’s crumbling National Film and Television Archive. Then, on Saturday night at the Mayor’s gala screening of ‘Lust, Caution’, Ken Livingstone dug deep and announced that £5m would soon be available from the new culture office at the Greater London Authority to continue the development of plans for a new Film Centre on the Southbank. Those high up at the BFI must be praying that Livingstone is re-elected next year. I wonder if Boris Johnson has the same affinity with cinema? Livingstone – not least through founding Film London – has proved to be a staunch supporter of film in the city so far.

Away from the galas, I caught a screening of a very impressive Italian film, Alina Marazzi’s ‘We Want Roses Too’, which was screening in the Cinema Europa section of the festival. It’s a collage of documentary footage, dramatised sequences, diary entries (fact or fiction?) and personal anecdotes relating to the change in women’s rights in Italy and elsewhere during the 1960s and ’70s. The film already has a high-profile fan in Mike Leigh, who was at the screening having already seen the film once in Locarno this summer.

I also found time to attend a screening in the Treasure from the Archives section of Joseph Losey’s 1962 film, ‘Eve’ – newly restored by the Netherlands Filmmuseum. The film is set in a chilly, wintry Venice, and Stanley Baker is a Welsh novelist caught up with his own macho tendencies and two women – his wife, Virna Lisi, and a high-society call-girl, Jeanne Moreau. It’s a beguiling work, brimming with ideas of power, self-preservation and self-destruction, all unfolding within the distinctly odd theatre of the international chattering classes of this unique city. The main cinema at BFI Southbank was packed for the screening which began with a detailed introduction from one of the Filmmuseum’s staff who was involved with the restoration.

Tonight, the madness continues when Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford all roll into town for the world premiere of Redford’s ‘Lions for Lambs’. Rumour has it that Cruise has been persuaded by the festival not to indulge in his traditional, long round of hand-shaking before the screening lest it throw the festival’s schedule out of sync. Let’s see what happens . . .

Read our previous LFF blogs here:

Day Two: First review of 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano's 'Glory to the Filmmaker'

Day One: David Cronenberg's 'Eastern Promises' and all the gossip from the opening gala

Author: Dave Calhoun



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