Yesterday, the 66th BFI London Film Festival came to end, closing with a screening of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. Running from the 5th to the 16th of October, in cinemas around the UK and online, the festival includes: a programme of 164 films from around the world, press, industry and public screenings of UK premieres, jury-judged awards, a variety of talks, and a recently added series of immersive artworks.

The London Film Festival’s purpose has traditionally been to showcase European film festival hits in London, celebrate British cinema and promote undiscovered talent. It continues to evolve alongside the cinema landscape today, utilising streaming platforms and emerging technology to remain current and accessible. Below we explore some of these exciting developments.

Throughout the years the festival has progressed in a number of ways, from increased inclusivity of production to expanding its reach across the UK. Here are some key dates from the festival’s history:

The first edition of the London Film Festival was held at the BFI’s National Film Theatre (now known as the BFI Southbank)

The London Film Festival presented feature films directed by women for the first time. This year 43% of the programme was made by female and non-binary directors/creators or co-creators

BFI’ was added to the festival’s title as it became the BFI London Film Festival  

The pandemic prompted the festival to transform further – increasing its virtual offering via the BFI Player and adding more venues around the UK to remain accessible during a time of travel restrictions

But there are some other recent developments that have caught our eye…
The increasing presence of Netflix
This year, 6 out of the 14 Headline Gala feature films were distributed by Netflix, including the opening night premiere of Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, and the closing night premiere of the sequel to Knives Out.

Netflix’s increasing presence at the London Film Festival reflects a wider trend and a new era for cinema, whereby streaming services have advanced from online versions of Blockbuster, to platforms that are utilised for distributing exciting new content. The competition for distributing the latest films has changed the cinematic landscape, with more VOD providers battling for titles that will attract subscribers.

Consequently, these films are often given a smaller theatrical release window, if any at all, before becoming available on the streaming platform. Whilst this benefits the platform – Netflix continues to perform strongly for having high quality content and content that people are talking about in our proprietary research tracker ScreenThink – it has often been a topic of controversy as it typically reduces the size of the audience who experience the film on the big screen.

The benefit for viewers in this case, is that they won’t need to wait long to watch these Headline Gala films from the comfort of their own home, as the majority will be available to Netflix subscribers by December this year. Plus, as the competition between streamers increases, so does the quality of content, so sit back and enjoy!  
Innovative storytelling
Since 2021, in addition to the traditional offerings, the festival also has also featured an immersive art and film exhibition at 26 Leake Street, London. This year, it included 16 exhibits for people to view, experience and interact with. The titles in this collection covered thought-provoking topics, including personal data trails online, abortion laws in the US, and environmental damage.

By using cutting edge technology such as virtual avatars, 3D scanning, holograms and eye tracking, this collection invited visitors to not only view the artworks but to participate in them. For example:

The Last Time I Saw Snow – a dystopian future environment for audiences to walk through created with artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

Planet City – an imaginary city of 10 million people created with virtual reality, where every culture exists in peace, and no belief system dominates.   
This exhibition showcased artists who are using exciting technology to tell stories in a way that traditional cinema can’t. Through audience immersion, people experience the artwork in a unique way, and are forced to think about important societal, environmental and technological issues.

After 66 years the London Film Festival continues to adapt to the world around it, embracing developments in cinema and technology, helping it stay relevant whilst maintaining its core traditions and values. We’re excited to see what next year brings!