David Lister: The Week in Arts

Time to move this film festival out of London
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The Independent Online

I must, to use a well-worn journalistic phrase, declare a lack of interest. The Independent has no association with the London Film Festival. It is sponsored by a rival newspaper. But even if it were sponsored by the mobile phone company that was its benefactor until recently, by someone else, or by no one at all, I would ask the same question. Why?

Why does it exist? We are currently in the middle of it, but I'm not exactly bumping into people talking about it or going to it. How many readers, I wonder, have put this weekend aside for the London Film Festival. How many hotel owners have rubbed their hands in glee at the thought of tourists coming in specially for it, both from the UK and abroad?

In the case of the Edinburgh arts festival, all this would be happening as a matter of course. In the case of the Cannes or Venice film festivals, likewise. So would it be with opera in Aix-en-Provence or Mozart in Salzburg or Wagner in Bayreuth. They are special places with clearly focused festivals which both bring people in and make the local population feel a part of it.

But let's be honest: 99 per cent of Londoners don't have a clue that they are in the middle of a film festival. It's the wrong event, in the wrong place. I'm not talking here about the wares on offer - though there may well be a separate debate to be had on the fact that several of the big-name films have already premiered elsewhere. There is a more fundamental point to be made. London does not need a film festival. It has dozens of cinemas and hundreds of screens every day of the year; it has art house cinemas; it has the National Film Theatre. Every day is a film festival.

Much more importantly, putting an arts festival in a capital city (and Edinburgh is a glittering exception) misses the point of what a festival should be.

It should bring people together by offering them, in Edinburgh style, culture, chat and parties in a small, walkable city centre where the buzz is about the festival and you know in precisely which bars and restaurants you will see fellow enthusiasts. When an arts festival is on in a place, it should dominate that place's cultural life.

That can't possibly work in London, where the films are spread over a wide area and the whole festival is drowned out by the mass of other cultural events going on nightly - theatre, opera, rock concerts and, yes, even other movies. It's also a bit of an insult to Britain's other cities to bring a film festival to the one city which doesn't exactly need publicity, a heightening of profile or an event to put it on the cultural map. Numerous other places would have fitted the bill so much better. If you put a festival, of any art form, in London, it gets lost.

If Hay-on-Wye had been the London literary festival, it would have forfeited every ounce of its charm and unique flavour. If the Brighton comedy festival were in London it would amount to just another bunch of stand-up comics on top of the ones already doing the nightly round.

An arts festival has to have a sense of place. The place has to contribute its distinctive feel to the art. At any great festival, the work and the surroundings are inseparable. London is too amorphous and too well endowed culturally either to need a film festival or to do it justice. And I have a hunch that even the capital's film buffs would have had more fun going away for a weekend of film to another British city, country town or seaside resort, than making the trip to Leicester Square or Waterloo that they do every other Saturday night. It's time to relocate this festival.

The good old days of benefit gigs

They weren't handing out knighthoods to rock stars in 1971 for helping the Third World. But this week's DVD release of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, right, is a reminder that he was 14 years ahead of Bob Geldof in linking a rock concert and relief for the oppressed and starving.

Actually, he wasn't the only one that summer. Harrison's shindig in New York was followed just a few weeks later by a Bangladesh benefit concert at the Oval, of all places. But, that event, starring The Who and The Faces, seems to have been written out of history.

George Harrison's New York concert did highlight one grand difference between then and now. He was able to stun the audience by bringing on a surprise guest, Bob Dylan.

With the mass pre-concert coverage there is now for major benefit gigs, when details of the acts, the running order and the set lists are given to the press and television in advance, we are unlikely ever to see that sort of surprise again.

* One great thing about the Tate and its large and efficient network of PRs is that there is always someone available for comment. If you are writing an article about the success of Tate Modern, there they will be, available for comment. If you are analysing the benefits of the Tate Britain rehang, you can choose from four or five of them plus a curator and director or two, all available for comment.

So when the rather disturbing story broke this week of Tate trustee Chris Ofili charging the gallery for his art after exhorting other artists to donate for free, and of Ofili's agent Victoria Miro reminding Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota that Ofili was getting married and needed funds, it was a surprise to read that among Ofili, Miro and anyone from the Tate, no one was available for comment. Cynics might think there was something to hide. I'll be more charitable. It's half term, and maybe everyone involved was taking a well-earned break.

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