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Celebrities shine at BFI London Film Festival

The stars of Hollywood rolled into the capital in October for the BFI London Film Festival. Tom Beasley reported throughout the two weeks and experienced the best and worst of the newly released films on show.

Film festivals are crazy. They’re manic, chaotic and utterly exhausting. They’re also fascinating, exhilarating and a delirious amount of fun.

I had the pleasure to spend two weeks in October covering the BFI London Film Festival on behalf of Empire Magazine.

It was an immensely tiring 12 days, taking in more than 20 films and a handful of journeys down the red carpet. As a journalist with a huge interest in film, it was an enlightening experience and a real insight into the industry.

Having seen so many films, it was inevitable that they would be a bit of a mixed bag. For every blistering high point, there was also a film that completely missed the mark and made me question whether it was worth the 5am start to commute from Southampton.

The highlight of the festival was definitely getting the opportunity to experience the red carpet. There was a real thrill to waltzing past the assembled fans, who were invariably screaming and waving cameras, into the press area.

These red carpet events presented me with the opportunity to interview a number of huge stars. Noomi Rapace and JK Simmons were an absolute delight, responding eloquently to questions with warmth and good humour. Shia LaBeouf, on the other hand, seemed to pride himself on being toe-curlingly taciturn. At least he left the paper bag at home.

Despite the great time I had interviewing many of the celebrities, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s not every day that you get to shake hands with and question a true A-lister, but on the red carpet for WW2 tank drama Fury, I got that chance. Brad Pitt is a man with real presence, coolness radiating from every pore of his body.

It’s not often that I’m starstruck in an interview, but my question to Pitt emerged from my mouth as a jumbled, garbled mess that was probably just about coherent. This is a man who can erode even the sturdiest sense of professionalism with a single winning smile.

Brad Pitt and the crew spent time in Dorset at the Bovington Museum preparing for the film; one of the museum’s tanks was used on the set. Back in the screening room, it was British films that were taking centre stage. CEO of the British Film Institute, Amanda Nevill, told me that there were 39 British films playing at the festival this year, which is the biggest homegrown line-up in its history.

It was a truly inspiring line-up, with Yann Demange’s Belfast-set thriller ’71 rubbing shoulders with Mike Leigh’s stately artist biopic Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall’s wide array of grunts.

On the smaller end of the British spectrum, I was pleasantly surprised by comedy-drama X + Y from BAFTA-winning documentarian Morgan Matthews.

It’s the story of an autistic maths prodigy, played by Hugo’s Asa Butterfield, who bonds with Rafe Spall’s washed-up tutor – himself battling with the onset of multiple sclerosis – on the way to the International Mathematical Olympiad.

There’s real wit and warmth to the story, marking it out as one of the festival’s surprise packages. Despite not getting nationwide release until March but it is worthwhile checking it out.

The festival also played host to the UK premiere of Whiplash, which has received enormous buzz on the festival circuit in America. It won prizes at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year and has sparked awards speculation for its stars – Miles Teller and JK Simmons.

The film is truly terrific, balancing the classic tale of the raw talent and ferocious motivator with the power of music. I can see it being a real dark horse in the awards race and it’s certainly going to make a star of Miles Teller ahead of his appearance in the Fantastic Four reboot next year.

I learnt a lot about film journalism during my time at the London Film Festival and got the chance to do some incredibly fun things. I am enormously grateful to Empire Magazine for giving me the opportunity to report on the festival and it’s not an experience I will be forgetting any time soon.