London Film Festival raises its game

Dollop of dough gooses event's ambitions

With a fresh cash injection from the U.K. Film Council and buoyant sponsorship revenues despite the recession, the London Film Festival is raising its game.

This year’s 53rd edition, which opens Oct. 14 with the world premiere of “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and closes Oct. 29 with the global unveiling of “Nowhere Boy,” will dole out new awards for best film and best British newcomer, alongside its long-standing Sutherland Trophy for most original debut.

Other firsts include a stand-alone prize ceremony and a keynote address from Focus topper James Schamus.

The number of world premieres is the same as last year — 15 (out of 191 features) — but there’s a greater emphasis on securing European premieres, with 23 on offer including “Micmacs” from France, “The Boys Are Back” from Australia and Mike Judge’s “Extract” from the U.S.

The fest is paying for international media to attend for the first time and making a greater contribution to the cost of flying in talent and staging press conferences around its major gala events. The marketing budget is up, with a much more visible promotional presence around the streets of London.

“London has always been built on quite small amounts of money, so in many ways we’re just bringing it up to parity with other festivals of a similar size,” says artistic director Sandra Hebron.

This has been made possible by a UKFC grant of $3 million over three years. The fest is spending half of that this year, bringing its budget up to $9 million, still a relatively modest sum compared with the likes of Toronto or Rome.

It’s not seeking to rival Europe’s competitive A-list festivals such as Cannes, Venice and Berlin, but trying to deliver a red-carpet event with a degree of glamour and excitement worthy of a leading city of the world.

“We’re not trying to do anything different this year in terms of range,” Hebron explains. “We still go from the big prerelease premieres through to the more specialist work. But we do want to secure the higher-profile films a little earlier in their festival cycle.”

TIP SHEET

When: Oct. 14-29

Where: London

Web: bfi.org/uk/lff

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