'King of Scotland,' 'Mischief Night' among pix to unspool

For its golden anniversary this year, the Times London Film Festival will be putting on the Ritz with one of its strongest programs ever, featuring a mix of starry galas, a showcase of the best of British films this year, U.K. premieres of smaller international titles with and without British distribution, archive restorations and unique public events specially devised for its 50th occasion.

“We’ve been very ambitious in our programming this year, and happily we’ve been rewarded with a very high-quality and wide-ranging selection, combining hotly anticipated and high-profile titles with genuine discoveries,” comments artistic director Sandra Hebron. “These 180 features and 100 shorts showcase originality and creativity from almost 50 countries, and show London is a festival which champions filmmaking in all its forms.”

“The Last King of Scotland,” the first feature by docu helmer Kevin Macdonald (who made “Touching the Void”), will open the fest. A European premiere, pic tells the story of a hapless Scottish doctor who gets caught up in Uganda dictator Idi Amin’s regime; it stars Forest Whitaker, who also will be attending.

Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu returns to the fest again, after previously screening “21 Grams,” with his latest, the multistorylined “Babel.” Brad Pitt/Cate Blanchett starrer, which first screened at Cannes last May, reps the TLFF’s closing-night gala.

Other galas include “Bobby,” Emilio Estevez’s reimagining of the assassination of Robert Kennedy; the European premiere of Todd Field’s “Little Children” with Kate Winslet; “Stranger Than Fiction,” starring Will Ferrell and Emma Thompson; Euro preem of Anthony Minghella’s drama “Breaking and Entering”; Roger Michell’s legit-set dramedy “Venus”; and galas for two non-English-language pics, Nuri Ceylan Bilge’s “Climates” and the Malian-U.S.-Gallic co-production “Bamako.”

Brit pics include Shane Meadows’ latest effort, “This Is England”; Cannes competish entrant “Red Road”; “Mischief Night,” the new Penny Woolcock film; documaker Nick Broomfield’s second foray into fiction, “Ghosts”; frosh helmer Yousaf Ali Khan’s “Almost Adult”; and a slew of docus, including Stephen Kijak’s “Scott Walker: Thirtieth Century Man” and “Blindsight,” helmed by Lucy Walker.

In addition, the festival will be holding two special events. The first, on Oct. 27, will be a “screening” on an oversized screen in Trafalgar Square of short filmic “postcards” made by London artists and filmmakers, assembled under the creative directorship of helmer Mike Figgis.

“The word ‘screening’ doesn’t really do it justice,” says Hebron. “Mike will be doing a live mix of those various people’s work, projected onto a huge screen outside the National Gallery. Basically it will be a completely free, walk-up event. It’s about taking a place that’s very iconic of London and animating that space.

“The festival has been supported by public audiences for the last 50 years, so this free event will be very open, very democratic, and about the city that it happens in.”

Similarly providing a festival atmosphere for London’s larger public, plans are afoot to have not just one but 50 screenings of surprise films all over the capital on one night, Oct. 29.

“We can’t get 50 prints of the same film,” explains Hebron. “So it will be an assortment, a kind of potluck, so you buy a ticket and see what you get. We’ll be using a mixture of cinema screens and taking the concept into nontraditional venues — a screening in Holloway Prison, and in a church, a pub, maybe the screens in the departure hall at Heathrow, and so on.

“It’s taking the idea of a screen very broadly, and the widening celebratory aspect of the festival,” says Hebron. “I’m assuming we might end up showing 10 or 20 different titles, most of them previews, but there will be a few archive titles as well. It’s a big, democratic, fun thing to do.”

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