Callum Petch at BFI London Film Festival 2019: Day 14

Recollections and thank yous from a crazy two weeks.

Another year in the books.  Got home about 4PM yesterday, dumped all my shit and just sat not thinking about anything for near-enough five hours before starting work on this.  My mind is more than a little broken at the moment.  I mean, my mind has been more than a little broken for the vast majority of my now 25 years alive on this godforsaken planet – happy birthday to me, let’s not dwell on that, it triggers one of my panic attacks – but this is the socially-acceptable kind of broken stemming from having worked so full-bore for so long that all concept of coherent time, place and sense of being just turns to collective mush.  Two straight weeks of non-stop grinding: early starts in the dark, enforced running to make screenings, lots of movies, near-thousand word write-ups for almost all of them despite my having started out insisting that I was going to make shorter pieces this year (oops), meetings with industry mentor folks which went well, meetings with filmmakers that went less well, lots of socialising, lots of extremely late nights, lots of sub-six hour sleeps, lots of McDonalds meals…

Back when I started out this year’s series, I confessed to having entered sceptical and rather reluctant.  That my heart wasn’t in it, that I didn’t think the line-up was all that exciting, that I should’ve stuck with my original plan of blowing it off when my first two potentially-career-advancing avenues slammed shut on me and spent this time working on finding a real job.  Joke’s on Two Weeks Younger Me, the blithering fool that they were, cos if I had stayed home then I wouldn’t have gotten to attend a press conference with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and, most importantly, Martin fucking Scorsese.  Initially, I was confirmed for the overflow room – which is a room in the May Fair Hotel next to the room where the press conference was being held, to accommodate overcrowding, with the presser being livestreamed on projectors – but five minutes before start time I and the 10 others in the room with me got moved into the main hall itself.  Maybe a few peeps who had subscribed saw their bodies fail them following a 5am start and their seats opened up.  Their loss.  I got to share air with Martin fucking Scorsese, a fact I am still not over and, despite having the blurry picture and muddy audio recording to prove it, I’m still not 100% certain I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing.

This was supposedly my phone camera’s highest quality setting. Clearly, my phone’s definition of “high quality” is loose.

(A write-up of that presser will be along on Sunday.  Got a lot on my plate this week and I need to figure out how best to format it for you folks since, funnily enough, I do not have much experience with press conferences.)

So, despite much grousing and public dragging, I did actually enjoy myself at the Festival this year.  The organisation itself may have been a complete and utter shambles that needs severe reworking, restructuring and longer planning for next year – a sentiment shared by almost everybody I talked to and also several of the extremely hard-working volunteers whose efforts at holding this rapidly-collapsing Festival together I doff my non-existent cap to – but I had a lot of fun.  (Plus, from what I could gather, the public screenings all went off without a hitch which was probably the more important part to get right anyway.)  For two weeks, I got to dive back into this particular bubble and inoculate myself from the stresses and miseries and emptiness of the outside world, which is something I am highly grateful for.  When I started the fortnight, I still had a part-time job.  Five days in, I was informed via text from my co-worker that was no longer the case.  Were I doing anything else, that would have cast a pale over my entire fortnight and sent me spiralling once more into a depressive misery.  Here, that lasted for maybe three hours tops and was firmly put to an end by Saint Maud socking me right in the motherfucking face.

Shelling out to do the London Film Festival every year – with the travel costs, accommodation fees, Tube costs, meal costs, and many other little additional charges that crop up unexpectedly (much of all this being subsidised as a birthday present by my parents in an arrangement I wish wasn’t the case) – is not going to magically jump-start my career.  This I know.  Even if I tried to actually network instead of just-plain socialising, I highly doubt anything is going to come out of putting my life on pause for two weeks every year and trekking down to London.  But in these past two years, especially, I’ve found that doing so makes me… content.  There’s probably a little too much stress involved in my nonsense self-imposed work schedule – almost everyone else has intentionally spaced out their write-ups, rarely trying to keep on top of them or just not writing up certain films altogether, because they are smart people with good survival instincts – to say that doing this makes me “happy,” but I do feel a sense of peace with myself when I’m down here.  My self-loathing quiets down to almost nothing, my comfort and confidence go up, and I feel like I honestly belong.

When I first came in 2016, I felt a sort-of thrill at blending in with the rest of the press because, having effectively lucked into going and having no prior connections to anyone or anything down there, it felt like I was playing dress-up amongst “Real Journalists” and somehow getting away with it.  But in the past two years, despite my standing not having changed much of any in the interval, that sense of playing pretend has largely dissipated, now used merely as a self-deprecating icebreaker when talking with people who slightly intimidate me which isn’t all that many.  So many of the same faces turn up year after year, and so many of them somehow manage to have memories like elephants even if they’ve only met you briefly once, that any line separating “you/us” from “them” blurs into meaninglessness.  We’re all united, in a way.  We’re all hustling to get by, we’re all here for the love of movies, we’re all looking for a connection whether that be on a screen or from a human being for five minutes or two hours or two weeks, and we’re all doing this because every fibre of our being cannot envision spending our days doing anything else.  We all belong and we will all get through this together, whether that be the eleventh straight 6am start or the 50 or so weeks separating our times together as the world outside this bubble is literally set on fire.

It’s the people who make this Festival, this year more than ever.  I cannot envision how my fortnight would have been without these fine folks.  So, here are a bunch of shout-outs, thank yous and plugs for all the people whose names I could actually remember so sorry my memory is trash and I stupidly forgot to ask people to note their names and handles/outlets in my notebook for future reference.  Starting with this little group I found myself in, from left to right:

Photo courtesy of Andrew Pope (@WhitlockAndPope).
  • LaToya Austin: Also known as @franglais27. Writer of films, pop culture, travel pieces and much more.  Also an Influencer but despite that, and in a shocking turn of events which is forcing me to re-examine my prior conceptions about the type of people who usually get tagged with that title, is one of the sweetest and most genuine people you’ll ever meet.  You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram, and read her writings at her own website Franglais27 Tales.
  • Callum Petch: me, obviously. Do not know why I decided to go for the hand-wave at the last second in this photo.
  • Martin Rich: writer of Through the Silver Screen, lover/dependent of coffee, hater of Sicario: Day of the Soldado which means he is a person you can trust. You can follow his personal Twitter, @Martin_Rich_91.
  • Kelechi Ehenulo: writer of Confessions of a Geek Mind and also a contributor to Set the Tape which was where we met. Briefly met up in-person at last year’s Fest, she pulled me into her circle of friends and acquaintances this year which helped me way more than she’ll ever know.  She’s awesome people and you should go read everything they’ve ever written cos it’s all great.  Her Twitter is @kehenulo.  Also, if you’re in the London area, get yourself down to the Film & Chill events she helps organise when they get back up and running!
  • Katie Smith-Wong: freelance writer for Flickfeast (where she’s also Features Editor), HeyUGuys and a bunch of others, proud member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics, and firm shutter-down of fake news when the time calls for it. She was also so tired on the last Sunday that she nearly forgot her place in the Irishman queue, so please send her positive vibes which can fuel a long-overdue fulfilling sleep, she perhaps needs it most out of all of us.  Her Twitter is @Guitargalchina and her personal blog is Musings of Guitargalchina.
  • Simon (last name forgotten, sorry): writer behind The Depressed Moviegoer, deserved hater of queue-jumpers. You can read their works at the aforementioned site and follow their Twitter @Depressedmovie.
  • Milo (last name also forgotten, sorry): writer for SpoilerTV and, far more importantly, the utter maniac who decided to review the Festival as a critic whilst also picking up shifts at the VUE West End to work the Festival at the same time. My body gets palpitations at the mere suggestion of such a thing, Jesus.  You can follow them on Twitter, @MiloBOK, and on Letterboxd, @Milo123.
  • Calum Cooper: film reviewer for The Common Space, a Scottish online magazine. Delightful to have a chat with and, to prove that it’s not just me who felt this way, I could tell he was really finding himself and getting more comfortable the further into the Fest he went.  You can follow him on Twitter @CalumTheFilmGuy.
My customary “badge, programme, public tickets” photo.

Still not done, despite all that.  Like I said, met and connected with a lot of folks this year.  So, in no particular order, here are the aptly-named Sirs and Madams Not-Appearing-In-This-Photograph.

  • Andrew Pope: the “Pope” half of Whitlock & Pope. Dapper-dressed John Hodgman lookalike (minus the ‘stache) with great taste in music.  He took the photograph above.  You can follow him on Twitter @WhitlockAndPope.
  • Hemanth Kissoon: writer of Filmaluation (whose title I have hopefully spelled right this year). Still an absolutely lovely guy who actually remembered me completely the first time he saw me which I was genuinely surprised by.  Thought Knives Out and The Lighthouse were only “fine,” though.  His Twitter is @Filmaluation.
  • Sian Francis-Cox: editor at Flixist. Was seated next to her at the Bad Education public screening and helped her out by recording the post-screening Q&A so she could jet to the Rian Johnson Screen Talk she’d bought tickets for but otherwise might’ve missed.  Emailed me without prompting just before I started writing this piece to thank me again for the help and check in on how I’m doing, which is something that never normally happens to me so it feels really nice.  You can follow her on Twitter @sianfranciscox and she also has a personal self-titled blog.
  • Zoe Margolis: legendary badass. Still hilariously sharp-tongued, still better than most all of us.  Correctly theorises that Armie Hammer is a Sex God which means that she has working eyeballs.  Her Twitter is @girlonetrack, her website is self-titled, and she has a Patreon you should throw money at.
  • Lee Nostromo: co-host of The A24 Project and Filibuster Also thinks that Sicario: Day of the Soldado is gubbins (that’s good) but does not think that Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is as good or better than the original (that’s bad).  Was doing the same kind of relentless grind that I was but for podcasting rather than writing because some people are non-murderous Terminators.  Follow him on Twitter @Lee_nostromo.
  • Amon Warmann: last but most certainly not least. Freelance writer for Empire, TalkSport’s film reviewer, and all-round awesome and relentlessly friendly guy.  Last two years he, along with many others already shouted out, has gone out of his way to make me feel included and offer support when a man of his stature has absolutely no reason to do so and I appreciate that deeply.  He’s also convinced me to watch Marriage Story when it hits Netflix next month, so I’m blaming him if I hate it like I have every other non-Francis Ha Noah Baumbach movie.  His Twitter is @awarmann, he has a personal blog called Amonymous although it’s understandably not often-updated, and you can also find his Letterboxd here.

To all of these people, plus anyone else I’ve missed out or straight up forgotten to my eternal shame, thank you ever so much for the past fortnight.  Genuinely.

This would normally be the point where I transition into running down my Top 10 of the Festival but, honestly, I’m not up to that right now.  Putting together a set list like that marks an official end to something and I’m not quite ready to tie a full bow on my 2019 London Film Festival experiences, even though I’m now back at home and having to take a week before picking up the messy pieces of my life and moving on.  (Plus, I guess I should finally just fucking watch Joker already since not even the spoils of this packed Festival could distract anybody’s mind from THE DISCOURSE surrounding it.)  It’s also technically not the end of my coverage yet, anyway.  This weekend, I’ll bring you write-ups of that aforementioned Irishman press conference plus the extremely brief interview I got to have with Rashaad Ernesto Green, director of Premature (one of my favourite films of the Festival), and I may actually take a brief dive into the online viewing library this year to see if they’ve put up anything I wanted to see at the Festival but couldn’t make the screenings of.  So, the Best Of list might come along at some other point in the near-future.

But also, yeah, the films felt secondary to everything else this year.  The films were great, don’t get me wrong; even though I only saw one full A-grade film, they were otherwise a highly-consistent batch through and through.  But they’re not going to be what I treasure from this year’s visit.  It’ll be the people, it’ll be those nights out, it’ll be those queue chats, it’ll be the sense of community and belonging which eludes me so often in my day-to-day life, it’ll be that reminder that this whole “existence” thing isn’t always so bad.  It definitely won’t be the constant 200M sprints and getting-fucked-over-by-the-Tube, but you take the good with the bad.  I shalln’t be so hesitant and reserved about coming back next year.  Let’s do this until the wheels fall off because why would you want to do anything else?

…  …fine.  Knives Out, Saint Maud, Waves, Honey Boy, The Irishman, Premature, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Pink Walls, Our Ladies, and Bad Education.  That’s the list.  Happy, you animals?

Photo courtesy of LaToya Austin (@franglais27).

Callum Petch, you’ll never be alone again.

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