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Cinematic odyssey

Posted by: Richard Abbey
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Leeds International Film Festival returns to the city from 3-19 November and is the biggest to date. Northside spoke to director Chris Fell to find out more.

If you thought film festivals were restricted to key cities like Cannes, New York and London, you’d be mistaken. In the UK alone there are over 30 film-related festivals, the majority of which take place outside the capital city. 

You’ll find festivals focusing on short films, documentaries, animation, comedy… the list goes on. Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) is the largest film event of its kind in the North and covers a lot of everything – feature films, short films, animation and more. This year it is even bigger, running over 17 days between 3 and 19 November. 


The festival was started in 1987 by a group of passionate volunteers before being taken under the wing of Leeds City Council who have helped it to grow and evolve over the years. Over the course of the festival, LIFF will screen over 240 films in venues including the Vue and Everyman cinemas in the city centre, Cottage Road Cinema in Headingley, and the recently re-opened Hyde Park Picture House. 


“It’s a fantastic place and they’ve done a fantastic job with it,” said festival director Chris Fell of Hyde Park Picture House. “They’ve kept a lot of the original features, inside and outside, and they’ve added a second screen which is fantastic for us.


“We’ve decided to have our opening film there, which is Poor Things, to celebrate their opening. Having Poor Things as our opening film is a real coup, it won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival and it’s got fantastic reviews. We’re thrilled to be opening with it.”


Closing the festival will be a low-budget Lithuanian film called Slow, which hasn’t got any UK distribution so will present UK audiences with a rare opportunity to see the film on the big screen. 


“There’s so many films that get missed by audiences each year,” said Chris. “We keep trying to help that change. Sometimes a film we show will get bought by a UK distributor and circulated or sometimes films we show get toured, either by us or other organisations.


“For me, it’s all about sharing with audiences films that they may not otherwise get to see. We do previews of big films but most of the films we show and support are under the radar and we think, as a team, they deserve to be seen.” 


Chris has been director of Leeds International Film Festival since 1999 and, like the huge team of staff and volunteers that support him, is hugely passionate about film, although he was something of a late starter. 


“I started volunteering in a small cinema in Bradford in the 1990s as an usher,” he recalled. “Some of the films I watched were by Krzysztof Kie?lowski, who made the Three Colours Trilogy, I’d never seen films like that before. It made me realise that there’s a whole other world of film.”


LIFF received in excess of 5,000 submissions for this year’s festival, which came from 120 countries. The final shortlist spans six programme sections to include: Official selection - previews about the most talked about films coming up as well as previews about new discoveries; Cinema Versa – documentaries; Fanomenon – horror/sci-fi/action/cult films/animation; Thrill Rides - thrillers set on trains or at train stations; Cinema Amour – It’s all about cinephilia, about film-goers’ love of cinema and of films; and Rear View - a big-screen collection of 4K restorations of rarely-screened archive films.


LIFF SHORTS is the new name for the programme section dedicated to short films. This opens on 8 November with the Yorkshire Short Film Competition and from 9 to 11 November, the festival presents six more short film competitions including the Academy Award®-qualifying Louis le Prince International Short Film Competition – named after the Leeds pioneer who made the world’s first moving images in 1888 – and the World Animation Competition. LIFF SHORTS 2023 also includes the British Short Film Competition, and competitions for screendance, queer shorts, and music videos.


LIFF SHORTS 2023 closes with the awards event at Howard Assembly Room when the winners will be screened and announced as judged by the juries.


Over the years, LIFF has given filmmakers a real platform, particularly in the short film category. As an Oscar-qualifying festival, its submissions can be considered for nomination. 


“Being selected for the festival can be a real boost,” added Chris. “It doesn’t mean automatic nomination for the Oscars but it means they’re shortlisted for nomination, that’s partly why we get so many submissions.”


Running alongside LIFF are two spin-off festivals - Leeds Young Film Festival (LYFF) and the INDIs. The former used to be part of the main festival but became its own entity and occurs every Easter. The INDIs are aimed at 16-25-year-olds and runs every February.


“The idea is that audiences discover independent film through the Leeds Young Film Festival and then when they’re older, they may decide to make a film and submit that to the INDIs,” explained Chris. “When when they’re a bit older they may submit to LIFF or even attend and buy a pass. It’s a generational cycle and we’re helping people to stay rooted in Leeds.”


Leeds International Film Festival remains firmly rooted in the city and Chris is keen to extend its reach within Leeds and beyond. They recently received three years’ funding from the British Film Institute (BFI) for audience development. 


“We’ll be going to parts of Leeds we haven’t reached before, which I’d say are mainly south and east Leeds, a lot of our audiences come from north and west Leeds,” said Chris. “A lot of the next three years is about going out into those communities and working with local partners and hopefully bring audiences from those areas. 


“We also do want more national recognition for the festival, it’s a fantastic programme and the team do an amazing job. We want more people from around the UK to come to the festival as well as those in Yorkshire. People don’t need to go to London for the film festivals, or other capital cities, they can come to Leeds and see films too.”


For further information, and for ticket details, visit

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