The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival

Sandra Hebron is the Artistic Director, BFI Film Festivals, responsible for the Times BFI London Film Festival and the London Lesbian and Gay Festival, two of Europe’s leading public film festivals. This is her fourth year as Artistic Director of the Times BFI London Film Festival.
She began her working life in academia, researching in the fields of sociology and cultural studies at Sheffield Hallam University, and published books on women’s magazines and women’s leisure. She has worked in independent cinema for over fifteen years, including a time as the Film and Photography Development officer at Yorkshire and Humberside Arts. Her real passion is for film and video exhibition in all its forms. Sandra was Cinemas Director at Manchester’s Cornerhouse before joining the BFI Festivals Department in 1997 as Programmer of the London Film Festival.
Sandra was promoted to Deputy Director in 1998, and to Artistic Director in 2002. She has served on the juries of several international film festivals, including San Sebastian, Istanbul and Los Angeles. She has made short documentary and fiction films, regularly writes and broadcasts about cinema, and is currently Chair of Lux, the London-based organization specializing in distributing and promoting artists’ films and videos.

Bijan Tehrani: Please tell us about the history of BFI London Film Festival
Sandra Hebron: The Festival began 51 years ago, and has always been a core part of the program of the BFI (British Film Institute). The original Festival was a ‘festival of festivals’ screening around 20 films selected from the programs of the other major international festivals, such as Cannes and Venice. Since then the Festival has grown and evolved and now includes approx 180 feature films and over 100 short films.

Bijan: How and when did you involve with the festival?
Sandra: I came to the Festival in 2007, originally to work as the Festival Programmer. After one year I was promoted to Deputy Director, and then to Artistic Director in 2002. Before working on the Festival I was the Director of an independent art house cinema, Cornerhouse, in Manchester.

Bijan: What are the different categories in the Times BFI London Film Festival screenings?
Sandra: Galas, Film on the Square, New British Cinema, French Revolutions, World Cinema, Treasures from the Archives, Experimental, Shorts

Bijan: Does international cinema have a strong presence at Times BFI London Film Festival. How many countries are expected to participate in 2007 festival? Is there any focus on cinema of a reign, a country or an international filmmaker?
Sandra: The purpose of the Festival is to act as a showcase for the best in recent world cinema. This year there will be films from 43 different countries. There is no specific focus on a given country or filmmaker, though this year we will have a special event devoted to Romanian Cinema

Bijan: Are there any filmmakers attending the festival as guests?
Sandra: Gianni Zanasi director of “Don’t Think About It”, Jan Sverak director of “Empties”, Aleksi Salmenpera director of :A man’s Job”, Mia Hansen Love director of “All is Forgiven”, Ramin Bahrani with his new film “Chop Shop” and the list goes on and on.

Bijan: What are different events of the 2007 festival?
Sandra: TCM Screen Talks, The Script factory, Panel Discussions, Outdoor Screen in Trafalgar Square, TCM Classic Shorts Competition Finalists, Catching the Big Fish, Fido Awards, Listmania! A Celebration of Movie Top Tens, The Variety UK Achievement in Film Award – Paul Greengrass and Danny Williams: Factory Films.

Bijan: How films are selected for screening at BFI London Film Festival?
Sandra: As Artistic Director of the Festival, it is my responsibility to determine the overall scope and scale of the program, as well as to select many of the individual films. The other key person is Michael Hayden, the Festival Programmer, and alongside him we have a team of program advisors, each of whom is a specialist in a particular area of cinema. We research and call in to view many of the films we select, as well as travelling extensively to other festivals and other countries to find new work. We are open submission, so we also receive many unsolicited films for consideration.

Bijan: What we should look forward in 2007 festival? Any exceptional movie or new talent?
Sandra: Really, an impossible question to answer, as so many of the films in the festival are exceptional! Chinese independent cinema and Mexican Cinema are both very strong this year. For new talents, it is worth looking at the shortlists for our Sutherland Trophy and Fipresci awards.

Bijan: Is there any attention to Documentary productions at the festival?
Sandra: Yes, we will be presenting 23 feature length documentaries this year, and the standard is very high. We will also be awarding the annual award, presented in conjunction with the Grierson Trust, for the best documentary in the Festival.

Bijan: Please tell us about your plans for the future of the BFI London Film Festival
Sandra: Perhaps a question which would be better answered after this year’s edition! However, the intention is to continue to strengthen the Festival as one which can provide a great platform for a diverse selection of films, whatever their provenance or the size of their budget. The profile of the Festival continues to grow, and this is helpful in securing films of very high standards, and in attracting film makers to the Festival – I would like London to be a Festival where all film makers would like to premiere their films. We are also committed to continuing to develop our provision for our industry delegates, and to expand our professional development training.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

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