The London Film Festival (LFF), held Oct 22 - Nov 6, has lined up a string of Oscar buzz films for its main programme up this year.
Opening with Jane Campion's steamy psychological thriller In The Cut, and closing two weeks later with Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, the line-up highlights the fact that the LFF is well-placed as a profile raising event in the newly compressed awards season. The event was moved to a slot two weeks earlier this year, to avoid a clash with MIFED, and the 2004 Academy Awards and BAFTA Film Awards will both be held in February.
Other year-end awards contenders with gala screenings at the festival include Peter Webber's acclaimed Girl With A Pearl Earring, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams and Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation.
The New British Cinema Section includes Emily Young's Kiss Of Life, which screened in Un Certain Regard in Cannes this year, Penny Woolcock's The Principles Of Lust and John Furse's hostage drama Blind Flight.
The festival will also present on-stage interviews with Neil LaBute, Holly Hunter and Peter Mullan, and film-making masterclasses with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and legendary avant garde film-maker Ken Jacobs.
"Increasingly we're being used for the UK and European launch of films, and now people are seeing us as a stage in their awards campaigns," Sandra Hebron, the LFF's artistic director, told ScreenDaily.com. "Companies will bring talent for three, four, five days to do the festival, BAFTA screenings and Q&As and also press junkets. Those different elements do mesh together well."
"I start looking from Sundance onwards," said Hebron of her selection. "Berlin wasn't the strongest year that has ever been, and before Cannes we were getting a bit concerned, but in the end there were some good titles at Cannes."
According to Hebron, there are still no immediate plans to tie the festival to a formalised film market. "Even though there is no market, films are sold on the back of the festival and we can keep on making that easier. I would never say launching a market is out of the question, but with the international business as volatile as it is, this is not the right time."
Gala Films and Special Screenings:
21 Grams, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (US, 2003)
The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand (Canada/France, 2003)
Casa De Los Babys John Sayles (Mexico/US)
The Dreamers Bernardo Bertolucci (France/Italy/UK)
Freaky Friday Mark Waters (US)
Girl With A Pearl Earring Peter Webber (UK)
In The Cut Jane Campion (UK, US)
Lost In Translation Sofia Coppola (US)
The Mother Roger Michell (UK)
Sylvia Christine Jeffs (UK/US)