Thursday, March 27, 2008

The 2007 London Film Festival


What’s it all about?
It doesn’t have the glamour of Cannes or the art house cachet of Venice or Berlin but this year’s London Film Festival is attracting its fair share of Hollywood A-listers, including Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Halle Berry.

Why go?
Unlike the other major European film festivals, which are mainly in-house affairs, the LFF is about public audiences. In other words, you don’t have to be a film critic or work in the business to actually get to see the films and, often, meet the cast and crew.

Among the list of more than 300 movies are films from 43 countries. Yes, you can discover obscure South American or Eastern European gems that will never show in London otherwise. You can also get sneak previews of mainstream hits that will shortly show at your local multiplex – Leicester Square will be donning a red carpet 15 times over the two weeks for gala performances.

What’s on the agenda?
Opening the festival is David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, a dark thriller set in London’s criminal underworld. Cronenberg and two of the stars, Naomi Watts and Vincent Cassel, will be present. (A tip: If the gala performances are booked up, the stars will usually turn up to the following day’s afternoon screening.)


And the glam factor?
The most extravagant night out will be the premiere of Robert Redford’s political thriller, Lions for Lambs, on October 22. LFF’s main sponsor, The Times, is hosting a state banquet-themed party at the Waldorf Hilton after the screening, which will be attended by Redford and leading man, Tom Cruise, who plays a presidential candidate.

Ken Livingstone, a less glamorous but nonetheless real-life politician, will be hosting the Mayor of London’s gala film – Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution – and a post-screening event at the Royal Opera House on October 20.

Wes Anderson’s new movie, The Darjeeling Limited, closes the festival on November 1. The story of three brothers – played by Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman – traveling across India, the film promises typical Anderson whimsy with rich images and a great soundtrack. Of the trio, only Wilson – who has been keeping a low profile since a suicide attempt – will be absent from the gala performance.

What else should I get tickets for?
Other highlights will include Sean Penn’s directorial adaptation of the Jon Krakauer book, Into the Wild, Halle Berry in Things We Lost in the Fire (in which she plays a woman who loses her husband) and Michael Moore’s polemic doco, Sicko, about the US healthcare system.


Is there anything to do between screenings?
One of the problems of the LFF has been that screenings are spread out across the city. There is no central venue where film people and the public can mingle. The situation, however, may be different this year with the recent opening of the Benugo Bar and Kitchen at the British Film Institute on the South Bank. For the first time, there will be a classy location for film-goers to hang out before and after screenings at the National Film Theatre.

The details:
The festival runs from October 17 to November 1. Check official website for schedules:

— Alex Bellos

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