Geoffrey Macnab previews the seventh London UK Film Focus, which is including non-British films for the first time.

The four day “invitation only” British film export bazaar London UK Film Focus, now in its seventh year, was set up originally in 2004 to enable British sales agents to present British movies to international buyers.

Next week, 47 films, many of them premieres, will be unveiled to buyers. Titles such as Paul Andrew Williams’ Cherry Tree Lane (sold by Salt), Ben Miller’s Huge, starring Noel Clarke and Thandie Newton and Jamie Thraves’ Treacles Junior, starring Aidan Gillen, are likely to intrigue distributors.

This year, for the first time, LUFF is also programming a small number of non-British films handled by UK sales agents as well as some British films represented by some non-UK sales agents.

Does this risk diluting an event originally defined by its strong national identity?

Members of Film Export UK (the trade association representing international film sales outfits in the UK) argue strongly that the move makes sense.

“LUFF is the single most important showcase for British films and British sales companies in the film calendar and there is a definite willingness on all parts for the event to evolve,” says Stephen Kelliher of Bankside Films, which will be screening Aussie film Lou starring John Hurt. “Members of Film Export UK have often expressed a desire to screen non-UK films for buyers during the event so, in many ways, the move is a direct response to those demands. Furthermore, the success of the event relies entirely on its programme and, by admitting five foreign titles out of 47 films in total, we are in a position to present buyers with a more comprehensive schedule of the most current titles available.”

“The higher the quality of films showcased at LUFF – whether British or foreign – the more buyers will attend and that’s good for business. Record numbers of buyers are expected and that’s because they’ve opened it up. In fact, I understand there’s a waiting list for buyers and this can only be good news,” adds Carey Fitzgerald, Managing Director, High Point Media Group.

Event organiser Helena Mackenzie (head of inward investment and business development at Film London) likewise argues that the key goal is to “ensure the buyers get on the plane and come to London.” Expanding the selection makes that more likely.

As for the non-British sales agents representing British product, they seem eager to attend. “We are very grateful to Helena and the whole LUFF team for having it made possible for foreign agents that handle UK films like ourselves to be included in this years LUFF,” says Marina Fuentes of 6 Sales, which will be screening thriller Locked In starring Ben Barnes.

It’s a measure of how seriously LUFF is taken by public funders in the UK that its budget hasn’t been cut in spite of the continuing economic downturn. The event, whose primary funders are Film London and the UK Film Council, costs around £180,000 to stage.

“When we did the review of activities that the LDA (London Development Agency) gives us money to support, they recognised that the London UK Film Focus was a very high profile activity that generated real sales for British sales companies based in London. They (the LDA) could see the value,” Film London’s Chief Executive Adrian Wootton says of the decision to maintain LUFF’s budget.

Mackenzie says that attendance this year “has gone through the roof.” LUFF invites 120 guests (primarily distributors). Other buyers and festival directors come under their own steam.

Around 450 delegates in all are expected. Several US distributors (among them representatives from IFC and Magnolia) will be in London next week as will a sizeable contingent of key European and Asian buyers as well as one or two from as far afield as Australia. (For example, Hopscotch is due in town.) Mackenzie and her team have “overhauled” the guest list, making sure that the distributors who are given three nights of accommodation in London are genuine buyers.

“The long-haul travellers are fewer in numbers but the ones that come are people who have a history of buying independent British films,” Mackenzie says.

In previous years, buyers have sometimes grumbled about the quality of the British films on offer. That, though, hasn’t stopped them attending in numbers and doing business. LUFF calculates that around $4 million of business was generated by last year’s event.

Meanwhile, certain unheralded films have taken off thanks to LUFF’s Breakthrough Section. When producer-director Bruce Webb turned up at last year’s event with his film, The Be All And End All, he didn’t have a sales agent or any international contacts. The film was picked up by High Point for world sales and has gone on to screen at festivals all over the world. (It has most recently been programmed in Karlovy Vary.)

“Without LUFF, the film could never have been seen in the global market,” Webb says. “For me as a producer and director, it gave me a huge eye-opener into the international sales and film distribution world.”