Report on the 55th BFI London Film Festival

This year's festival took place from October 12 through 27. French films once again featured strongly in the program, with 39 features and 3 short films showcased at the event.

The BFI London Film Festival is Great Britain's largest film festival. It is hosted by the British Film Institute and boasts a budget of €7 million. This year's festival presented 200 feature films and 110 short films screened in 23 theaters spread across the city. Admission fees are charged to the event, with box office takings shared with theater operators. This high profile event arouses keen interest each year. More than 125,000 tickets were sold in 2010, and many of this year's screenings were sold out one month before the festival opened. The award for Best Film in 2011 was presented to We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay.
This year marks the last year for Sandra Hebron as artistic director of the event, with her replacement Heather Stewart taking office as artistic director of the London Film Festival and the British Film Institute in November 2011.
For this 55th festival, France was represented by 42 films out of the 300 films selected at the event, including three productions in the official competition (The Kid With a Bike, 360, and The Artist) and 15 productions in the thematic section devoted to French cinema entitled French Revolution, sponsored by TV5 Monde. Seven films helmed by French directors featured in the Film on the Square program, including Chicken with Plums, Carnage, Crazy Horse, Outside Satan, Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Where Do We Go Now? Six of the 16 special screenings honored French productions and co-productions: 360 by Fernando Meirelles (opening night), Habemus Papam by Nanni Moretti, The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius, A Dangerous Method by David Cronenberg, The Kid With a Bike by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, and Tales of the Night by Michel Ocelot.

A delegation of 15 French artists traveled to the event, with assistance from uniFrance Films: Nicolas Klotz and Élisabeth Perceval (Low Life), Michel Ocelot (Tales of the Night), Mathieu Demy (Americano), Mathieu Demy and Corinne Masiero (Louise Wimmer), Laurent Achard and Pascal Cervo (Dernière Séance), Vincent Garenq (Guilty), Dominik Moll (The Monk), Mathieu Kassovitz (Rebellion), Bruno Dumont (Outside Satan), Vincent Cassel (The Monk), and Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Béjo (The Artist).

A large number of professional meetings held during the festival confirmed organizers' desire for the event to serve as a springboard for the film industry. At the Meet the Buyers Event held October 18 at the Curzon Soho, the 20 French sales agents present in London had the opportunity to meet with around 30 British film buyers. This one-day film market, which is highly appreciated by all participating buyers, follows a "speed dating" platform, with each session lasting 15 minutes.
After the Meet the Buyers Event, uniFrance Films invited British film professionals (buyers, producers, and journalists) and French sales agents to a reception held at Kettner's Restaurant in Soho, which was attended by 100 professionals.

Traditionally dominated by English-language films, the British theatrical market remains difficult for French films to penetrate. Despite a high number of films released (between 30 and 50 annually, with 40 titles likely to hit the screens in 2011), French films' market share rarely tops 1%. Annual box office revenues for French films vary between £2.5 million (500,000 admissions) and, in a good year, £11.5 million (2 million admissions).

Figures from late October 2011 show French films released so far this year to have registered 2.2 million admissions in the UK, around 400,000 lower than in 2010. Nevertheless, two films released in December 2010 have accounted for the lion's share of admissions in 2011: Arthur and the War of the Two Worlds (released December 24, 2010, 150,630 admissions) and Of Gods and Men (released December 3, 2010, 128,815 admissions). Furthermore, the upcoming release in November and December of Angèle and Tony (Peccadillo Pictures), Romantics Anonymous (Picturehouse), and The Well Digger's Daughter (Pathé) raise hopes that 2011 will finish up matching results of 2010, and therefore prove to be an excellent year for French films across the Channel. It is worth noting nonetheless that English-language films in which French productions participated this year should end up representing around 55% of total admissions to French films in 2010, marking a decline compared to 2009. The top performers in the UK this year are Unknown (France, Germany, UK) and Colombiana (France), films which were shot either entirely or partially in the English language.
Potiche is the most successful French-language film released in the UK this year, with over 150,000 spectators to its credit.

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