Filmworkz catches up with Rowan Woods, the London Film Festival’s Series & Episodic Programmer, just as the festival is about to begin to hear about what we can expect, what it takes to pull it off, and ponder more widely about the state of film festivals now. With previous work at BBC Film and the British Council, Woods was the perfect person to speak with to hear all about the exciting releases and events of one of the most anticipated film festivals in the world.
The London Film Festival runs from 4-15 October 2023, and boasts talks from Martin Scorsese and Greta Gerwig, as well as showing some of the most exciting recent films, like Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn (2023) starring Jacob Elordi and Barry Keogahn, Foe (2023) starring Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal, All of Us Strangers (2023) with Mescal again as Andrew Scott’s love interest, The Kitchen (2023) with Daniel Kaluuya, Killers of the Flower Moon (2023) with Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio, Yorgos Lanthimos’ much-anticipated Poor Things (2023) with Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe, and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (2023).
There is a film for everyone, Woods emphasise, championing her teams commitment to breadth and diversity at the LFF – ‘it’s really important to us to remember that we’re not programming for one monolithic audience – there’s a lot of different interests and tastes…we consider the structure of the programme too for thematic strands’. With planning starting ten months in advance, hundreds of hours of research and planning goes into such a massive event, with a team that expands six-fold in the run up.
She touches on how the BFI works to help young filmmakers get into the industry with schemes like their BFI Academy, BFI Network, and BFI Film Fund to support new talent, with some previous members making appearances at the LFF now, years after they first became involved with the BFI.
Whilst the BFI are looking to the future by supporting newcomers, they have also been reflecting on the past with their ‘Treasures’ section that shows older or archived films. Their guest, Martin Scorsese, is a big proponent for protecting film’s heritage, founding The Film Foundation and advocating for the protection of old movies. Filmworkz aligns itself completely with this mentality, and Phoenix is one of our tools to continue this mission.
Considering the precariousness of film festivals during Covid and when asked about the impact of streaming services, Woods muses on the current state of film festivals and their importance. Whilst before, film festivals would be a place for distribution companies to acquire content, but now that so many films are funded by their distributor, that dynamic has shifted. ‘I think we are in a moment where, particularly in the UK, theatrical distribution is really tough. There is so much competition for audience’s eyeballs, and audiences know that they can find wonderful films and series on their sofa through their various subscription services’. What the LFF can do, however, is expose audiences to a really broad range of work and international work that they wouldn’t otherwise get to see in a cinema.
Woods also highlights the shift of how TV series have been regarded cinematically – although we all love bingeing a TV show and can enjoy them as much as films, the industry maintained a degree of artistic hierarchy. Woods’ work aimed to show the significance of how incredible some TV shows can be, how interchangeable many filmmakers can be in moving from film to TV and back again, and has provided the opportunity to enjoy some of the most exciting TV releases at LFF.
‘Directors and writers have the luxury of going with what feels like the best form for this particular story: will it work over 90 minutes in terms of its structure and the story we want to tell or is it better to be told over a bigger canvas of 8 episodes because of the novelistic framework or the number of characters included’.
Social media has made an unquestionable impact on all aspects of our lives, and film festivals are included. Looking back at the Don’t Worry Darling (2022) drama that unfolded at the Venice Film Festival last year, Woods highlights how everyone at home can now be involved in film festivals, and that this gateway has democratised conversations around film.
The creation of the app Letterboxd is a manifestation of this new generation of film critics, and Woods talks through her own approach to the app, considering she has to see so many for work. Her recommendation if you’re a fan of Letterboxd? Download Serializd – its the Letterboxd for TV shows!