James Schamus delivers anti-keynote

Focus Features chief talks narratives at London Film Festival

LONDON -- Studio chief, writer, academic and producer James Schamus delivered the inaugural industry keynote Tuesday evening at the Times BFI London Film Festival.

For a man who tops Focus Features, is filmmaker Ang Lee's go-to guy as producer and script adviser and a lecturing academic, Schamus came prepared to make his mark on the first industry keynote held during the British capital's main film festival.

He said his decision to deliver a speech entitled "Lessons in Storytelling From the Department of Homeland Security: An Anti-keynote Speech" would contain a paragraph at the end that would be "a proper, though depressing, keynote."

His entertaining and offbeat hour-plus left the industry invite-only guests in Leicester Square pondering the narrative form, touching on Schamus' myriad sources from literature, art, the Internet and even filmmaking.

Schamus said his decision to offer an alternative to the run-of-the-mill addresses about "the challenges of our digital future, new distribution models, the threat of piracy, etc. etc.,," came from a mix of laziness and boredom with such talks.

Schamus launched into his industry by displaying the contents of a two-page document entitled "Narrative," published in November by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Virtually every line of the report was redacted in bold black ink.

"I do, however, have one advantage over other readers of 'Narrative,' in that I know, or suspect I know, that it tells a story about my wife, the novelist and peace activist Nancy Kricorian," Schamus said.

He used the redacted document as a starting point to talk about narrative and held audience attention with discussions surrounding the subject.

He then opened the floor to questions and ended by saying the fact that an individual had the power to create copyright from their life was a "business opportunity for all."

But he warned that the rise of digital tracking and delivery would only increase the power of the system to control and dictate choice. And he said the film industry, through distribution, was as much a part of that as any.

The inaugural industry address was introduced by LFF artistic director Sandra Hebron and industry training body Skillset film chief Neil Peploe.