From bizarre experimental noodlings to next summer’s blockbusters, the beauty of the film festival is that it overthrows the idea that the two can never meet in one place. The London Film Festival, which closed only yesterday, for example, provides an un-segregated environment in which hardened blockbuster-hooligans and arthouse-freaks can (in theory) meet and remember each others’ faces. Although in practise they will probably be attending differentfilms.This year’s Times bfi London Film Festival’s opening preview of The Constant Gardener (starring Rralph Fiennes and Rrachel Weisz) hardly looks like the less mainstream moviethat a festival might want to take under its wing. But without the help of Cannes and Venice, gems like Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (2004) would never have reached a wider audience. It’s easy for big Hollywood films to hit the Friday night Odeon-going audience, but to keep the variety of cinema alive it’s important to have another way in, something that makes international and experimentalcinema more accessible. In London, this year’s range of categories – from the straight-up Jonny Cash biopic, Walk the Line, to the inventive documentary of LAa street-dance, Rrize – demonstrates the diversity of modern cinema in terms of both subject and form. This diversity goes unnoticed by most cinemagoers; it the job of the film festival to change this.Having said that, it is a diversity that will probably continue to go unnoticed by most cinemagoers. Aas one friend said to me, “all the London Film Festival really does is favour the film buffs who know the programme months in advance – there’s no space for your average tramp wandering in off the street.” Aafter a scornful silence, I did mention to him that the programme of the London Film Festival was freely available in the foyer of the NnFT for anybody who could be bothered to go and get it, to which he deftly replied that only film buffs would be bothered to go and get it.All that remains here is self-confession: yes, I freely admit that I do go through the programme a month in advance, circling such worthies as “a short film about a cat with hands.” In fact, some years I have even been known to go through twice, once in pencil and once in pen. But if you’re not willing to do the legwork, such cutting-edge cinema as, well, short films about cats with hands, will pass you by. In making these films available to the paying public, think about how much more legwork film festivals are saving you: rental fees, shipping fees, and the mammoth task of compiling them in the first place. Grady Hendrix, who runs the Nnew York Aasian Film Festival, remembers putting on a retrospective of old kung-fu films in spite of the fact that “our prints looked like a collection of ex-convicts.” Yet it is only in film festivals like these that an audience would be able to see such films, often never released on video or DVD.For all the argument about whether indie film festivals like Sundance are selling out by bringingin big films to generate cash, or whether they are attracting a wider audience to the smaller films, it is sad to see that in many instances the smaller films still remain relativelyunnoticed. We all know the humiliation of ringing up to book tickets three weeks in advance, then turning up to find you’re the only person in the screening.Perhaps the real heroes, then, are the unabashedly monomaniacal film festivals. I am not here speaking of the Conservative Film Festival, recently opened in Dallas in response to the proliferation of Michael Moore-style films (“Aand we thought, where are the films for mainstream Aamerica?”). Rather, I mean such eccentric beauties as the fifth annual Bicycle Film Festival, feauturing such shorts as Messenger (2005), “a stunning portrait of the life of a bicycle courier.” Touring around the world (currently in Tokyo), its audiences in Nnew York reached seven thousand.The London Film Festival is only one of a plethora of film festivals, weird and wild, screening a variety of films – from mainstream to plain crazy – to please any tastes. Eeven Oxford has it’s own film festival, Oxdox, screening international documentaries. These festivals are happening all the time, all over the world, and need an audience to see what they have to offer. Ddon’t say you haven’t been given due notice.ARCHIVE: 4th week MT 2005