Bumper 181 features selected for 50th edition of fest

LONDON — Brit pics packing a punch from Anthony Minghella’s contemporary London-set drama “Breaking and Entering” to Shane Meadows vibrant skinhead pic “This is England” lead the line for the 50th edition of the Times British Film Institute London Film Festival.

A bumper 181 features from almost 50 countries are included in the lineup to the public festival of festivals that was unveiled Sept. 14.

Sandra Hebron, fest artistic director, is adamant that there is “imagination and creativity to be found in every continent” and pointed to the high-profile gala screenings of Abderrahmane Sissako’s African debt expose “Bamako” and Kiwi family drama “No. 2″ as evidence of the festival’s worldwide reach. “By championing work from lesser-known filmmaking countries in big slots we want to highlight the truly international focus of the festival to audiences,” added Hebron.

Gala screenings are also given to Emilio Estevez’s examination of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination “Bobby,” which stars Sharon Stone, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne and William H. Macy; Roger Michell’s Peter O’Toole-starrer “Venus”; Todd Field’s profile of a stifled suburban mom, played by Kate Winslet, “Little Children”; John Cameron Mitchell’s pansexual study of modern relationships “Shortbus”; Richard Linklater’s social critique “Fast Food Nation”; Marc Forster’s star-studded comedy “Stranger Than Fiction”; Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s unflinching relationships expose “Climates”; “Breaking and Entering”; and the 3D version of family fave “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

The strong new Brit cinema section lineup includes four world premieres: Penny Woolcock’s outrageous comedy “Mischief Night”; Yousaf Ali Khan’s film about unaccompanied child asylum seekers “Almost Adult”; Chris Hall and Mike Kerry’s music doc “Love Story”; and Stephan Kijak’s homage “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man.” Hebron credited the increased “confidence of local filmmakers in their own British sensibility, irrespective of the subjectmatter” for the strong showing.

New work from established names, including Lars von Trier (“The Boss of it All”), Phillip Noyce (“Catch a Fire”), Lukas Moodysson (“Container”) and Aki Kaurismaki (“Lights in the Dusk”), add gravitas to the Film on the Square section. Hebron also announced Jia Zhang-ke’s Venice Golden Lion winner “Still Life” as a late edition to the fest. It does not appear in the official program.

To celebrate its half-century, the fest will host two special events: “Portrait of London: Trafalgar Square,” a free, outdoor live mix of moving images and music creatively controlled by Mike Figgis and a surprise film screening on 50 screens across the capital on Oct. 29.

London is usually big on stars and 2006 is no different. Forest Whitaker, Linklater, Burton, Dustin Hoffman and Paul Verhoeven are all lined up to give career interviews and masterclasses.

Other guests expected in London to bang the drum for their pics include Estevez, Moodysson, Michell, Minghella, O’Toole, Jude Law (“Breaking and Entering”), Mira Nair (“The Namesake”), Hanif Kureishi (“Venus”) and Nanni Moretti (“The Caiman”) .

The fest opens Oct. 18 with the previously announced U.K. premiere of Whitaker-starrer “The Last King of Scotland” and closes Nov. 2 with the U.K. bow of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarratu’s ambitious fest circuit favorite “Babel.”

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