The 56th BFI London Film Festival kicks off tonight with the UK premiere of Tim Burton”s “Frankenweenie” — it’s playing as I write this, in fact — but Burton”s moment at the festival isn”t limited to the curtain-raiser. Indeed, a couple of further showcase events have combined to make the kooky London-based director the festival”s unofficial mascot – in tandem with his personal and professional partner in crime, Helena Bonham Carter.
Indeed, there”s a pleasing symmetry to Burton and Bonham Carter”s presence at the LFF. While he is opening proceedings, she gets to see them out: the festival will close on October 21 with Mike Newell”s new adaptation of “Great Expectations,” in which she takes on the plum role of Miss Havisham. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the selections ensure that the offbeat couple could be in red-carpet attendance – in all their uncombed glory – at both ends of the fest. (It”s almost as if programmers were miffed that “Frankenweenie” is Burton”s first HBC-free project in 13 years. They mustn”t be separated, dammit.)
Capitalizing on their mutual presence, meanwhile, the British Film Institute has taken it upon themselves to honor both Burton and Bonham Carter at the festival with BFI Fellowships — the Institute’s highest accolade. Previous recipients range from Laurence Olivier to Martin Scorsese to Harvey Weinstein, while last year’s year’s honorees were Judi Dench and Isabelle Huppert. So, pretty good company, then. The Fellowship presentations will be made at the festival’s awards dinner on October 20: I’m happy to say I’ll be in attendance.
Burton is quoted in the press release as saying, “I feel very touched and grateful to the BFI for this tremendous honor. It means more than I can put into words to receive the BFI Fellowship and to be included alongside the great directors who have received it before me.” Bonham Carter, meanwhile, responded with customary self-deprecation: “I am somewhat bewildered and not sure that I am deserving of such an honour as a Fellowship from the BFI, but shall accept it with deep gratitude.”
Finally, just in case Burton was still feeling a little under-exposed at the festival, his film will also be the subject of a multimedia exhibition in the festival’s closing days. “The Art of Frankenweenie” will include all manner of sketches, puppets, props and further 3D footage from the film, showcasing Burton’s inspiration and creative process in making it. This unusually warm LFF welcome — hey, where was the exhibition for festival opener “360” last year? — is a nice consolation after the film’s slightly soft opening weekend across the pond. Applause all round.
Finally, in another nugget of LFF news, the festival revealed the full lineup of juries for the assorted competition strands — listed in an earlier post — with renowned playwright and Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Hare presiding over the jury for the Best Film prize. Argentinian director Pablo Trapero and Romola Garai are among his jurors. Arguably even name-ier, however, is the jury for the Best British Newcomer prize, headed by “Harry Potter” super-producer David Heyman, and including Tom Hiddleston, Olivia Colman (yay!) and lauded novelist Kazuo Ishiguro.
Meanwhile, look out for my coverage of the festival over the next week and a bit. Having seen a number of the major attractions already, I’ll be digging into some smaller discoveries, as well as catching up with some foreign Oscar hopefuls.