Why the London Film Festival Is Crucial to Awards Season

'The Imitation Game'

Once a post-Toronto afterthought, the city's premier film event has become a second chance for hopefuls

This story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The London Film Festival has long has been seen as an event featuring a best-of selection of past festivals. Treading on the heels of New York, following the quick-fire succession of Venice, Telluride and Toronto and coming nearly half a year after Cannes, London typically offers titles that already boast some serious air miles. This year's edition, from Oct. 8 to 19, follows suit, screening such films as The Imitation Game, Foxcatcher, Whiplash, Wild, Mr. Turner and Rosewater.

But what often gets overlooked is that London is a second chance for awards-season hopefuls. Given the U.K. capital's high proportion of Academy voters -- believed to be as much as 20 percent, making it the biggest concentration outside of L.A. and New York -- coupled with the rise of BAFTA as an Academy indicator, if not influencer, London is more than just a place to catch whatever was missed while propping up the martini bar.

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Danny Perkins, U.K. CEO at StudioCanal, which is this year looking after early Oscar frontrunner The Imitation Game, says that London has "become a key part" in his awards calendar, especially given that the BAFTAs and Oscars are so close. "With the date of the awards and nominations, the two campaigns now run hand in hand," he says.

Festival organizers announced Imitation Game as the opening film, with local leads Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley scheduled to attend, prior to the main lineup reveal and before screenings in Telluride and Toronto (where the film won the People's Choice Award). The announcement also came in conjunction with the release of the U.K. and U.S. trailers by StudioCanal and The Weinstein Co., respectively.

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Last year, Captain Phillips opened the LFF and went on to earn a BAFTA win for Barkhad Abdi and six Oscar nominations. The festival closer, Saving Mr. Banks, also had a strong BAFTA presence. 12 Years a Slave, the big Academy Award winner, arrived in London with hefty festival endorsements from North America, and its gala screening at the event was used by co-producer Film4 to underline its local appeal.

"It was hugely important for us to highlight some of its British credentials, to drive home where Steve [McQueen] had come from for a film that otherwise looked pretty American," says Sue Bruce-Smith, Film4's head of commercial and brand strategy.

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Adds StudioCanal's Perkins: "I think the festival's very well set now to help distribution for films we're releasing this side of Christmas -- and also into awards and even into the spring."

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