Gilbey on film: What can we expect from this year's London Film Festival?

Incoming Festival Director Clare Stewart shows signs of having created a properly dynamic programme.

Another year, another London Film Festival — though this one distinguishes itself from its immediate predecessors by starting earlier than usual (October 10), running for 12 days rather than the usual 16, spreading out across more of the capital than ever before (reaching Hackney, Islington and Shoreditch), sharing some of its gala screenings with audiences across the country (the opening night attraction, Tim Burton’s stop-motion animated horror Frankenweenie, adapted from his own 1984 live-action short, will be screened simultaneously at other UK cinemas) and incorporating a competitive element that brings it more in line with other major film festivals. This new broom is wielded by the incoming Festival Director, Clare Stewart, former head of the Sydney Film Festival. Stewart will have quite a job filling the shoes of Sandra Hebron, but early signs are that she has concentrated on making the shape and content of the programme properly dynamic.

Now the tricky part: speculation. Looking back at the sorts of festival titles I’ve suggested in past years has thrown up the occasional embarrassment (I was as disappointed as you probably were by Rampart and This Must Be the Place). But not for nothing is the LFF known as a best-of-the-fests affair, rounding up the cream of Berlin, Cannes, Venice and Toronto. Sure enough, the 2012 programme includes this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Michael Haneke’s celebrated Amour; Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, about the downfall of a kindergarten teacher, for which Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor prize at Cannes; and the same festival’s Best Director recipient, Carlos Reygadas, for his audacious drama Post Tenebras Lux. The Taviani brothers also return with their Berlin Golden Bear-winning Caesar Must Die, in which a group of prisoners stage Julius Caesar.

If it’s a surprise that neither Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master nor Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder have made the journey to London from their recent Venice premieres, perhaps that means they are in the running for a different kind of surprise—the LFF’s Surprise Film.

Here are ten other selections from the LFF programme, along with the reasons why I think they could be worth your time and mine:

 

In the House (Dans la maison)

Because François Ozon, great at camp (Potiche, 8 Women), is even better at psychological thrillers (Regarde la Mer, Under the Sand, Swimming Pool), and this study of the relationship between a teacher (the always excellent Fabrice Luchini) and his talented pupil looks full of promise. Kristen Scott-Thomas and Emmanuelle Seigner co-star.

 

Seven Psychopaths 

Because no one writes like Martin McDonagh. He also directs here for the first time since In Bruges, with a cast including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell and Colin Farrell.

 

Everyday 

Because the premise of Michael Winterbottom’s drama about a family coping with the long-term imprisonment of one of its number is elevated by its execution: it was shot on-and-off over five years, the better to capture the authentic changes in its cast members.

 

Hyde Park on Hudson 

Because Bill Murray plays FDR. What more reason do you need?

 

For No Good Reason

Because it’s a documentary about the great, savage illustrator and cartoonist (not to mention NS contributor) Ralph Steadman.

 

The Central Park Five

Because it promises to be a powerful analysis of a miscarriage-of-justice case in New York City in the late 1980s.

 

Reality

Because Matteo Garrone’s new film, about a fishmonger who yearns to be on Big Brother, is his first since the extraordinary Gomorrah.

 

Paradise: Love 

Because Ulrich Seidl (Import/Export, Dog Days) is a continually daring and abrasive director, and this film about sex tourism, the first in a trilogy, would suggest he hasn’t yet defected to the romcom.

 

Obsessive and Compulsive 

Because this programme of shorts on the theme of obsession includes Up the Valley and Beyond, about Russ Meyer, and Picture Paris, directed by Brad Hall and starring his wife, Seinfeld/Veep star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as a woman hooked on Paris.

 

Mekong Hotel  

Because while it may be only an hour in length, it’s also by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who made Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), a filmmaker who crams more treasure, pleasure and meaning into a few frames than most directors do into an entire career.

 

Booking opens to BFI members on 13 September, and to the public from 24 September.

Photograph: Getty Images

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Jonn Elledge and the Young Hagrid Audition

I auditioned for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for the part of “Young Hagrid”. Except I didn’t.

I’ve been dining out for years now on the fact I auditioned for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, for the part of “Young Hagrid”. It’s one of those funny stories I tell people when a bit drunk, under the no doubt entirely wrong impression that it makes me sound like I’ve lived an interesting life.

Except, when I came to write this thing, I realised that it’s not actually true. I didn’t actually audition for the part of Young Hagrid at all.

Technically, I auditioned to be Voldemort.

Let’s start from the beginning. In November 2001 I was in my last year at Cambridge, where I split my time roughly equally between pissing about on a stage, writing thundering student paper columns about the true meaning of 9/11 as only a 21-year-old can, and having panic attacks that the first two things would cause me to screw up my degree and ruin my life forever. I was, I suppose, harmless enough; but looking back on that time, I am quite glad that nobody had yet invented social media.

I was also – this is relevant – quite substantially overweight. I’m not a slim man now, but I was much heavier then, so much so that I spent much of my later adolescence convinced that my mum’s bathroom scales were broken because my weight was, quite literally, off the scale. I was a big lad.

Anyway. One day my friend Michael, with whom I’d co-written quite a bad Edinburgh fringe show eighteen months earlier, came running up to me grasping a copy of Varsity. “Have you seen this?” he panted; in my memory, at least, he’s so excited by what he’s found that he’s literally run to find me. “You have to do it. It’d be brilliant.”

“This” turned out to be a casting call for actors for the new Harry Potter movie. This wasn’t unusual: Cambridge produces many actors, so production companies would occasionally hold open auditions in the hope of spotting fresh talent. I don’t remember how many minor parts they were trying to cast, or anything else about what it said. I was too busy turning bright red.

Because I could see the shameful words “Young Hagrid”. And I knew that what Michael meant was not, “God, Jonn, you’re a great actor, it’s time the whole world got to bask in your light”. What he meant was, “You’re a dead ringer for Robbie Coltrane”.

I was, remember, 21 years old. This is not what any 21-year-old wants to hear. Not least since I’d always suspected that the main things that made people think I looked like Robbie Coltrane were:

  1. the aforementioned weight issue, and
  2. the long dark trench coat I insisted on wearing in all seasons, under the mistaken impression that it disguised (a).

Most people look back at pictures of their 21-year-old self and marvel at how thin and beautiful they are. I look back and and I wonder why I wasted my youth cosplaying as Cracker.

The only photo of 2001 vintage Jonn I could find on the internet is actually a photo of a photo. For some reason, I really loved that tie. Image: Fiona Gee.

I didn’t want to lean into the Coltrane thing; since childhood I’d had this weird primal terror that dressing up as something meant accepting it as part of your identity, and at fancy dress parties (this is not a joke) I could often be found hiding under tables screaming. And I didn’t want to be Hagrid, young or otherwise. So I told Michael, quite plainly, that I wasn’t going to audition.

But as the days went by, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. This was an audition for a proper, actual movie. I’d always had this idea I must have some kind of talent*, and that Cambridge was where I would find out what it was**. What if this was my big break?*** What if I was being silly?****

So when it turned out that Michael had literally started a petition to get me to change my mind, I acceded to the inevitable. Who was I to resist the public demand for moi?

And so, I graciously alerted the people doing the casting to the fact of my existence. A few days later I got an email back inviting me to go see them in a room at Trinity College, and a few pages of script to read for them.

The first odd thing was that the script did not, in fact, mention Hagrid. The film, I would later learn, does include a flashback to Hagrid’s school days at Hogwarts. By then, though, the filmmakers had decided they didn’t need a young actor to play Young Hagrid: instead that sequence features a rugby player in a darkened corner, with a voiceover courtesy of Coltrane. The section of the script I was holding instead featured a conversation between Harry Potter and a character called Tom Riddle.

I asked my flat mate Beccy, who unlike me had actually read the books, who this person might be. She shuffled, awkwardly. “I think he might be Voldemort...?”

Further complicating things, the stage directions described Riddle as something along the lines of, “16 years old, stick thin and classically handsome, in a boyish way”. As fervently as I may have denied any resemblance between myself and Robbie Coltrane, I was nonetheless clear that I was a good match for precisely none of those adjectives.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I went to the audition. I don’t suppose I expected Chris Columbus to be there, let alone Robbie Coltrane ready to embrace me like a long-lost son.  But I was expecting more than a cupboard containing a video camera of the sort you could buy at Dixons and a blonde woman not much older than me. She introduced herself as “Buffy” which, given that this was 2001, I am not entirely convinced was her real name.

“My friends always tell me I look like Robbie Coltrane,” I told her, pretending I was remotely enthusiastic about this fact. 

“Oh yeah,” said Buffy. “But he’s really... big isn’t he? I mean he’s a huge guy. You’re more sort of...”

Or to put it another way, if they had still been looking for a young Hagrid, they would have wanted someone tall. I’m 6’, but I’m not tall. I was just fat.

If they had been looking for a Young Hagrid. Which, as it turned out, they weren’t.

The section I read for was included in the final film, so with a bit of Googling I found the script online. It was this bit:

TOM RIDDLE Yes. I’m afraid so. But then, she’s been in so much pain, poor Ginny. She’s been writing to me for months, telling me all her pitiful worries and woes. Ginny poured her soul out to me. I grew stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets. I grew powerful enough to start feeding Ginny a few secrets, to start pouring a bit of my soul back into her...

Riddle, growing less vaporous by the second, grins cruelly.

TOM RIDDLE Yes, Harry, it was Ginny Weasley who opened the Chamber of Secrets.

I mean, you can see the problem, can’t you? I don’t remember this many years on what interpretation I put on my performance. I suspect I went beyond camp and into full on panto villain, and I dread to think what I may have done to communicate the impression of “growing less vaporous”.

But what I do feel confident about is that I was absolutely bloody awful. Five minutes after arriving, I was out, and I never heard from Buffy again.

So – I didn’t become a star. You probably guessed that part already.

In all honesty, I didn’t really realise what a big deal Harry Potter was. I’d seen the first film, and thought it was all right, but I was yet to read the books; three of them hadn’t even been written yet.

I had some vague idea there was an opportunity here. But the idea I was missing a shot at being part of an institution, something that people would be rereading and re-watching and analysing for decades to come – something that, a couple of years later, at roughly the point when Dumbledore shows Harry the Prophecy, and a tear rolls down his cheek, would come to mean quite a lot to me, personally – none of that ever crossed my mind. I’d had an opportunity. It hadn’t worked out. Happened all the time.

I do sometimes like to think, though, about the parallel universe in which that audition was the start of a long and glittering career – and where the bloke who played Tom Riddle in this universe is scratching a living writing silly blogs about trains.

*I don’t.

**I didn’t.

***It wasn’t.

****I was.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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