LONDON — Organizers of the Times BFI London Film Festival hope that widening the red carpet for industry players will increase the fest’s profile and the quality of screenings it presents.

Execs have been working to boost the fest’s industry appeal for the past few editions. This year Film London will bow a two-day Production Finance Market at the fest (see sidebar, page A3).

“I believe that strengthening the industry side of the festival is actually of fundamental importance if we are to enhance the festival’s reputation as a strong public event,” says LFF artistic director Sandra Hebron.

Hebron is adamant that the public and industry elements of the fest “are in no way contradictory … but go absolutely hand-in-glove in terms of the healthy future development of the festival.

“To be of value to the public, the festival has to secure the highest quality and best range of titles that it can — and we can only do this if we have good relations with the industry, and if the industry at large regards the festival as being of value and relevance.”

Film London CEO Adrian Wooton agrees: “The festival will benefit (from the PFM), because if the market is accessible, more and more producers will want to come in, and that will aid the festival in terms of its own events and screenings — essentially the market is another lever.”

The LFF lineup is packed with titles from established helmers. Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs” will world preem as a gala screening on Oct. 22. There also are gala screenings for Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution,” Todd Haynes’ “I’m Not There,” Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” and Carlos Reygados’ “Silent Night.”

But equally important to the fest’s programmers is showcasing distinctive cinema from emerging helmers. With this in mind, LFF offers Lenny Abrahamson’s “Garage,” Cristian Mungiu’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” and Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Persepolis.”

Much has been made in the British press of the number of pics playing in the fest that deal with conflicts in the Middle East (“Iraq Invades London Film Festival,” one BBC online headline declared). Indeed, besides the Afghanistan-set contemporary thriller “Lambs,” there is Brian De Palma’s “Redacted” and Nick Broomfield’s “Battle for Haditha,” both fact-based studies of alleged atrocities by U.S. forces in Iraq.

“London does not program thematically, partly because that is what the (parent body) British Film Institute does,” Hebron says. Instead, she suggests, the contemporary war pics show an interesting “synchronicity” among filmmakers compelled to consider how we conduct war.

The pics also satisfy Hebron’s taste for “films that require thought or engagement.”

Bringing their ‘A’ game

The fest is not lacking in star wattage, led by the red carpet appearance of Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep for “Lambs,” the first feature from the rejuvenated United Artists.

Also due in town to tubthump pics are Lee, Moore, Halle Berry for “Things We Lost in the Fire,” Sean Penn for “Into the Wild,” and David Cronenberg and Naomi Watts for fest opener “Eastern Promises.”

Giving LFF screen talks are Wes Anderson, Laura Linney, Steve Buscemi, Harmony Korine, Robert Rodriguez and Paul Greengrass, who will be feted with the Variety U.K. Film Achievement Award — a new collaboration between the LFF and Variety.

“Like all festivals, we are scrutinized by the number of stars we attract,” acknowledges Hebron, who welcomes the fact that A-list talent “makes a noise around the festival. … The two-thirds of the program without big-name credentials benefit from the overall exposure.”

But Hebron does not program pictures toplining Hollywood stars just to get the flashbulbs popping: “You are on a hiding to nothing if you start programming films just because they have stars in,” she says.

Hebron speaks proudly of how London auds have come to trust the LFF seal of approval and of how the programming team brings Londoners 180 titles from an original menu of 2,000. The hardest part of her job, she says, is “breaking the news to respected filmmakers and friends that their film is not in the festival.”


What: London Film Festival

When: Oct. 17-Nov. 1

Where: Odeon West End, Odeon Leicester Square and other venues

Web: lff.org.uk