Festival Preview: The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival: 14-29 October

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This morning saw the launch of The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival. One packed Leicester Square Odeon cinema screen; more than 800 members of the press and film industries; two fantastic female speakers and more tempting shots of George Clooney than we think was strictly necessary.

Amanda Nevill, big cheese at BFI, looked rather star-like herself in a black jumpsuit and sharp white bob, and spoke about her excitement and ambition for the festival. With bigger budgets thanks to the Film Council and the DCMS, she hopes to take London into the top tier of film festivals in the world. While we’ve got one of the oldest here in London, we’re still trying to catch up with the likes of Cannes and Venice.

For the first time, this year’s London Film Fest is giving out a best-picture award; perhaps aiming to rival prize-giving festivals such as Toronto or Sundance.

Sandra Hebron, Artistic Director, also gave a speech: mainly talking about the line-up. Asked about a theme for the 53rd festival, she said: “There are three George Clooney films and four films with nuns in them. That’s about it,” she said. If there is a theme, she said, it’s “the return of the auteur. Except of course, the auteur never went away…”

Celeb names lined up to attend the festival include George Clooney (who provides the voice for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox, the opening gala, and stars in The Men Who Stare at Goats as a self-proclaimed “Jedi warrior” leading paranormal experiments for the U.S. military, and as a smooth management consultant in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air.), Bill Murray, Julianne Moore, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Nick Park, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper and Nick Hornby.

With 191 feature films, including 15 world premiers and 146 UK premiers (not to mention the shorts, workshops, talks, outdoor screenings and archive treasures) it’s difficult to say what we’re most excited about. Sam Taylor-Wood’s John Lennon Biopic Nowhere Boy? Ben Whishaw in Bright Star? French delight in MICMACS?

Perhaps we should just stick a metaphorical pin in the massive online listings, book something at random, and celebrate what’s really best about the London Film Festival: unlike its snootier rivals, you and I can book tickets to any one of these exciting film screenings and sit alongside the stars: prices start at just £7.

The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival runs from 14 – 29 October. Tickets can be booked online at www.bfi.org.uk/lff or by telephone on: 020 7928 3232 from 26 September. BFI members booking opens on 17 September and 23 September for online bookings.

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