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London Fest opens in relaxed ambiance says Leigh

The London Film Festival (November 20 – November 4) has opened appropriately, with a new English film, Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake”, set in 1950s London.

Mr. Leigh and the star of his film, Imelda Staunton, who is in line for an Oscar for her startling portrayal of a back-street abortionist in early post-war London, were guests of honour last night at the British premiere of the film. Other high profile guests were directors Anthony Minghella (“Cold Mountain”) and Ridley Scott. Visitors from Hollywood expected to arrive in the course of the next two weeks include actors Billy Bob Thornton, Kevin Bacon, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman. Nine gala premieres are skedded for the big theatre in Leicester Square including Jonathan Demme’s remake of “The Manchurian Candidate”, starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, and Pixar’s Vanity Fair” directed by Mira Nair, and starring Ms. Witherspoon, while the bulk of the remaining films – 283 in all – will unspool at the Southbank NFT (National Film Theatre) complex, which is the main venue for festival screenings. The overall agenda includes 103 short films with 60 countries represented. Although this is not a competition event like the other majors, Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, it outweighs all others in sheer number of screenings. Among them will be three world premiers and 37 European first showings.
The festival closer on November 4 will be “I Heart Huckabees” directed by David Russell (“Spanking The Monkey”), with topliners Dustin Hoffman, Jude Law, Isabelle Huppert, Lili Tomlin and Naomi Watts. Jude Law will also be appearing locally in the remake of “Alphie” which opens commercially in London this week. A section comprising nineteen recent French films, all by relatively unknown directors, is called “French Revolutions”. The “New British Cinema” section has eight entries., “Cinema Europe”, thirty two, and forty-eight features are to be screened in the “World Cinema” slot. Surely, one of the most attractive sidebars is a nineteen film slate entitled “Treasures FromThe Archives”. This consists mainly of newly restored prints of such well known classics as “Mr. Smith Goes to Wahington” (Capra, 1939), “On The Waterfront” (Kazan, 1954), “Paths of Glory” (Kubrick, 1957), and “Pal Joey”, George Sidney, 1957, starring Sinatra and Rita Hayworth., but also includes lesser known earlier films such as William Wyler’s “Counsellor At Law (1933) starring John Barrymore, William Wellman’s “Night Nurse” (1931) with Gable and Joan Blondel, and the rarely seen Fritz Lang silent masterpiece, “Spione” (Spies), from his German period, 1928. “Off Broadway” director, Mike Leigh, who will be the subject of a retrospective here next year, describes the London festival as follows: “This is a festival in the real sense. It is not competitive. It’s about what is happening in the year in world cinema. The great thing about it is that it’s a huge international event in a relaxed atmosphere.”

Alex Deleon

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