The London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) is the largest festival of its kind in London, extending a hand across cultures through the dynamics of story-telling and cinema. As a global hub, London represents the perfect Western gateway to show films from all over East Asia, appreciating the rich diversity of a region bubbling with creativity and renewal.
Although various anti-Covid-19 measures had to be implemented due to the government guidelines in place at the time, it was possible for LEAFF to take place both as offline/live activities and screenings in cinemas, and a virtual event with a filmmaker.
Initially, the festival would have catered for 60 films and approx. 15,000+ guests over 11 days; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 edition was restricted to four days and 10 films (11 screenings) at three venues with one virtual Q&A with a legendary filmmaker based in Hong Kong.
LEAFF covers 12 countries in East and Southeast Asia and by engaging with London’s vast East Asian population, it offered a memorable and enjoyable experience and gave them a means by which to seek out and enjoy cultural activities again.
The festival used social media and digital marketing to spread the word including filmmaker and talent endorsements to capture the attention of a potentially new audience. They offered new unseen films with intros, Q&As, and a general professional and welcoming experience, all in the safety of Covid-19 guidelines.
They organised each event amongst the team with set roles and procedures, and made the festival as digital as possible in terms of ticketing and information. They introduced seat allocation to screenings, whereas in the past the seats were predominantly unallocated. They liaised in greater detail with the cinema sites to ensure their rules and procedures were met at all times.
LEAFF’s key aims were to bring the passion and love for live, shared cinematic experience back to film goers in London, as well as promoting East Asian cinema to a western audience.
The festival aimed to deliver a diverse programme of new films from across East Asia for new audiences, and stimulating screenings and Q&As with filmmakers in order to grow new audiences for East Asian cinema. On-screen representation of cultures from across the East Asian region covering films from Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong was incorporated into the programme.
LEAFF provides a platform for young aspiring filmmakers and film students to meet like-minded peers and take the opportunity to work closely with professionals with years of experience in film festivals, programming, marketing and management.
More than 60% of the audience were under 30 years old.
More than 22% of audiences were either LGBTQ+ or did not fit into the usual categories and preferred to self-describe.
More than 45% of the audiences were from mixed heritage or other non-white backgrounds.
Survey respondents enjoyed LEAFF so much that 97% said their experience was Very good or Good.
51% of survey respondents said this is their first time coming to the festival.
The 10 films screened as part of the festival offered a good geographical spread of the region, covered a range of genres and included Asia's first feature film shot on an iPhone.
Beasts Clawing at Straws (2020, South Korea), Better Days (2019, Hong Kong), Light For the Youth (2019, South Korea), Detention (2019, Taiwan), True Mothers (2020, Japan), I WeirDo (2020, Taiwan), No.7 Cherry Lane (2019. Hong Kong/China), Beauty Water (2020, South Korea), Twilight's Kiss (2019, Hong Kong), Wild Sparrow (2019, Taiwan)
Odeon Luxe Leicester Square, Cinema at Selfridges, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Taipei Representative Office in London.
LEAFF have been successful in continuing to work closely with partners from previous years, and most sponsors and partners have grown the amount of funds as well. It allows the festival to continue bringing a strong line up of films, and the partners help with promoting LEAFF not only in the UK to their countries’ communities but all over the world. This shows LEAFF is sustainable due to the strong programme, the audience waiting for LEAFF each year and the sponsors who support them to make the festival happen.
Budget in brief
• Income (cash and in-kind): £95,000, including £3,000 from Film Hub London
• Film Hub London subsidy per head: £2.45
The festival’s main concern was their audience's safety. The team focused on working constructively so that the fluidity of the crowds as they gained access to and from the festival was ensured and that any issues or problem that arose would be addressed. They received no complaints and thus it seems that in a tier level system during a pandemic, something like this can be done. Not on the scale the festival organisers would have desired, but with the same amount of care and attention invested, a film festival feel can be achieved.
The festival’s programming had a big impact on the filmmakers, as it helped encourage local filmmakers to continue to develop films even during these difficult times. LEAFF had a lot of positive response in Europe and Asia for continuing with the festival and supporting East Asian filmmakers and celebrating the triumphs of these wonderful films that managed to be released in 2020.
Through preparing LEAFF this year, the organisers were able to provide some relief to the industry professionals including their editor, programmers, photographer, videographer, designers, printing company and more. There has been a lack of opportunities in 2020 especially for freelancers working in film. Although at a smaller scale than previous years, LEAFF managed to secure enough funds to work with the team from 2019 and was able to support the team during this difficult time.
What has been difficult
The festival took place between major lockdowns so at first it was difficult to get the word out and convince the audience to attend. LEAFF’s marketing strategies shifted from offline to online. However, for some screenings, as they could only fill 35-50% capacity (depending on the venue), it was difficult to find a seat for everyone! Thus LEAFF ended up adding one additional screening to satisfy the demand.
What you would do differently if you did it again
The organisers were extremely careful and chose the biggest and most safe venues around London. They also reduced the number of titles compared to previous years for 2020. Through careful planning and execution, they were able to prevent any cases of Covid and found the audience really enjoyed attending. Taking these unique circumstances into account, they probably wouldn't do anything differently in this specific situation, but with the experience from 2020, LEAFF will be back with a programme of 33 films in October 2021. Maintaining the current health and safety measures, they plan to bring more diverse stories to meet with more audience.
Awareness / Attitudes
- 51% of survey respondents said this was their first time coming to the festival, showing LEAFF is successful in attracting new audience members.
- 46% of attendees said the festival introduced them to new types of films, which means LEAFF offers a cultural value in expanding the audience’s horizons.
- Over 20% of audiences were either LGBTQ+ or did not fit into the usual categories and preferred to self-describe.
- Over 45% of the audiences were from mixed heritage or other non-white backgrounds.
- More than 60% of the audience were under 30 years old.
- By involving interns, part-time students and volunteers, LEAFF offered work experience to 18-24 year olds who had missed out on opportunities due to cancelled or reduced festivals, giving them a chance to participate and learn more about the industry.
Knowledge & Experience
- Each year, LEAFF helps nurture the next generation of creative talent by reaching out to local film schools for a small number of work placement spots to allow film students to gain work experience or an internship, to see all parts of making the film festival and help develop their professional career. They have a chance to discuss the different roles within the festival and to work with industry professionals and experts in marketing, programming and PR/press, in order to build up their knowledge and foundation. In 2020, LEAFF took on more interns, part-time students and volunteers than ever before.
- 52% of respondents said that they attended because they wished to return to normal activity, which shows that LEAFF contributed to live cinema-going being a safe and positive experience that brings a sense of normalcy.
- 100% of attendees rated their experience of the venue as either Very good or Good.
- 2020 was plagued by a lack of opportunities especially for freelancers working in film, and the festival provided job opportunities for industry professionals during this difficult time. Although on a smaller scale than in previous years, LEAFF managed to secure enough funds to work with the team from 2019 and was able to support the staff, contributing to the strengthening of the industry.
- By managing to host live screenings at three venues, LEAFF succeeded in helping to breathe life back into cinema spaces and encouraging local employment.
What audiences said
"It was a wonderful opportunity at this time to see the film on the big screen, the way it was intended to be."
"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to come back."
"It felt very safe."
"It feels really good to be back in the cinemas."
“… really gives the Asian community something to look forward to.”
“Thank you for holding the events at a difficult time!”
“Excellent venue and staff!”
“Perfect, everyone was careful and the staff was friendly and made sure everyone is safe.”
“Felt completely comfortable the entire time and I'm a hypochondriac.”
What professionals, press and partners said
"It was a really satisfying, entertaining experience. What a nice window between lockdown two and what the future's going to hold." - critic Donald Hutera
"The London East Asia Film Festival is the capital's most celebrated champion of East Asian cinema. Our cultural and creative sectors have been devastated by the coronavirus, but during these difficult times culture has provided solace and connection as well as entertainment. I wish all of those involved in the London East Asia Film Festival the best with their fifth annual programme, and I'm in no doubt that it will be met with passion, once again, by Londoners." - Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
“LEAFF takes place over the course of three days and features 10 films from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. It is a testament to London’s appetite for East Asian film: Despite the coronavirus pandemic and cinema restrictions, the festival, which Mayor of London Sadiq Khan calls “the capital’s most celebrated champion of East Asian cinema” managed to secure screenings and filled cinema seats. With such a selection of films, it’s no wonder.”
Narjas Zatat, Metro. https://metro.co.uk/2020/12/13/beasts-clawing-at-straws-review-london-east-asia-film-festival-13746667/
“Famed for its star-studded premieres, the iconic Odeon Luxe Leicester Square is one of the main settings for this year's London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), running from Thu 10 to Sun 13 Dec. Bucking the trend for taking things online, following the lifting of England's lockdown the festival has opted for an in-person event to show its support for the shared cinematic experience. Instead, they have reduced the number of films screening to just ten, whilst offering more socially-distanced opportunities to see them.”
Emma Simmonds, The List. https://film.list.co.uk/article/121722-heres-what-you-should-be-watching-at-the-london-east-asia-film-festival/