New competition sections to be added, and ‘clusters’ will be grouped by themes.

The BFI London Film Festival has announced programming changes for its 56th edition, under the new leadership of the BFI’s new head of exhibition and festival director Clare Stewart.

The festival is revamping its awards by introducing competitive sections that will offer a clearer picture of which films are up for awards. They will be the Official Competition, First Feature Competition and Documentary Competition; each with 10-12 films. Some of the competition titles could also be presented as galas. No financial prizes will be given this year.

“Films have been competiting for these awards for years but now we are changing how the programme is presented. It’s about better positioning the awards with audiences and industry,” Stewart told Screen. “To me, it’s quite a logical move.”

UK films will be included across the programme, not in a separate section. “That’s a very essential element given the BFI’s broader role,” she added.

Also, the rest of the programme will be categorised into seven new ‘clusters’ of themes such as love, adrenaline, challenge, debate, cult, journeys and laughter, The aim is to create an audience-friendly way of discovering films but not to be reductive. “It’s important to create a programme environment that invites in new audiences…What’s informing audience choice in the contemporary marketplace has changed so rapidly in the past few years.”

Stewart introduced similar themed programme tags when she worked at the Sydney Film Festival, and audience attendance was boosted by 31% after the changes. The categories selected by the BFI are also based partly on the Opening Our Eyes report from the UK Film Council, which found that audiences choose to see a film based more on story or genre than on the actors or reviews.

The LFF has also now added a partnership with Nintendo, which will include a gala screening and a short filmmaking competition using the Nintendo 3DS. American Express continues as the lead sponsor.

The festival, which Stewart points out has seen audiences boosted during her predecessor Sandra Hebron’s artistic direction, is now almost at capacity at its venues and the BFI is exploring options to address that.

The LFF’s 2012 programme will be unveiled in early September and the festival runs Oct 10-25.

The LFF has presented the Sutherland Award for best first feature since 1958 and has partnered with the GRierson Trust for the best documentary award since 2005. In 2009, the festival had introduced the Best British Newcomer Award and the Best Film Award in partnership with American Express.