London Film Festival Shifting to Virtual Edition for 2020

Credit: Tim P. Whitby / Getty
BFI London Film Festival artistic director Tricia Tuttle

The event — set to take place in October — will include 50 virtual screenings, with the entire industry program moving online.

The BFI London Film Festival is shifting most of its activities online for its 2020 edition as it contends with the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Although the festival is due to take place Oct. 7-18, when many lockdown restrictions are expected to have been lifted across the U.K. (cinemas are officially allowed to reopen July 4), the event is following the path taken by many since the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, moving largely to a digital platform.

This year's festival will include up to 50 virtual premieres, with each film scheduled to screen at a particular time and include additional elements, such as Q&As with filmmaking talent and programmers, online salons and discussions around films. There will also be a wide range of free-to-access digital talks and in-depth conversations, while the press and industry program is also going online. The festival's previously announced XR and immersive art strand will also debut this year.

"Like many other live events around the world, we've had to make changes to our plans in response to a global pandemic, factoring in safety concerns and restrictions — some known, some still unclear," said festival director Tricia Tuttle. "But as we've undergone this planning we've also witnessed historical international protests, an urgent reminder of just how much we need to do to combat racism and inequality." 

While the festival's main competition has been scrapped, the LFF's 2020 edition will have audience awards for four categories: best fiction feature, best documentary feature, best short film and best XR.

Acknowledging that many cinemas will be open while it's on, the festival is putting on a small physical element, partnering with exhibitors and venues across the U.K. to screen exclusive previews of 12 films from the festival. These will also preview at the LFF's flagship BFI Southbank venue.  

"This year has also given us an opportunity to think creatively about how we make the festival more accessible. It was vital to us that we get back to cinemas, and are looking forward to working with independent and cultural venues across the U.K. who are such an essential part of our film ecosystem," explained Tuttle. "The Virtual LFF programs and these cinema screenings take the festival out across the U.K., giving people opportunities to engage in different ways."

She added: "It's a pleasure each year to speak with audiences who share the ways filmmakers have made them laugh, think, weep, or shifted their way of seeing. Through a number of partnerships and platforms, we can't wait to share many of this year's extraordinary new films — from around the world, from artists of different backgrounds and with many bold distinctive filmmaking voices."