TheTimes BFI London Film Festival kickedoff on Wednesday night (Oct 20) with the UK premiere of Mike Leigh'saward winning Vera Drake at agala screening at the Odeon Leicester Square.

Leightook to the stage before the film along with producer Simon Channing-Williamsand 30 of its cast and crew - including lead actress Imelda Staunton.Leigh said it was a huge honour for his film to open his 'local filmfestival'.

Artisticdirector Sandra Hebron added that selecting a British feature like VeraDrake as the opening film had been'one of the easiest programming decisions I've made in years.'

Earlier BFI chairmanAnthony Minghella had announced - to applause from the audience -that the BFI would be holding a special season of Mike Leigh films next year.

A number of stars and directors are expected in London forthis year's festival, including Billy Bob Thornton for the UK premiere ofBad Santa and Joan Allen who will be in London for SallyPotter's film Yes.

Isabelle Huppert will visit London for her two films MaMere and I Heart Huckabees, Jason Flemyng will attend the European premiere of Drum and bothTaylor Hackford and Jamie Foxx will introduce the screening of the biopic Ray.

François Ozon will also visit London with his latestfilm 5 x 2. Catalina Sandino Moreno will be in town with director JoshuaMarston for the UK premiere of Maria Full Of Grace.

Previously confirmed guests include Zach Braff and NataliePortman for Garden State, Kevin Baconfor The Woodsman, ShirleyHenderson for Yes and Frozen and Martin McDonagh for his debut short film SixShooter.