"They don't openthe London Film Festival with films like Vera Drake...but they donow!" Mike Leigh, fresh from his Golden Lion triumph in Venice, quippedyesterday at the official launch of this year's Festival programme.

Speaking on the stage ofthe Odeon West End in Leicester Square, Leigh said he had been coming to thefestival since 1961. His first film to screen at the LFF was the made-for-TVdrama Grown-Ups way back in 1980. The festival has long supported himand now he was cheerleading on its behalf.

Vera Drake is the first of a number of gala screenings atthis year's The Times BFI London Film Festival (Oct 20 - Nov 4), among themRoger Michell's Enduring Love, Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers,Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation, Jonathan Nossiter's Mondovino,Pixar's The Incredibles and closing film, I Heart Huckabees.

Though London is lighton world premieres, it has cherry picked many of the best titles from Sundance,Berlin, Cannes and Venice. Intriguingly, Wong Kar-Wai's long-gestating 2046(controversially plucked by its director from the Edinburgh Film Festivalprogramme last month) is now set to receive its British premiere in Londoninstead.

"It (2046)is due to have its Chinese premiere on the first of October and so the filmwill have to be complete by then," festival director Sandra Hebron told ScreenDaily.com."All joking apart, we are fully expecting to screen it."

Titles which slippedHebron's grasp late-on (primarily because they were not completed) include TheLife Aquatic, The Aviator and Closer. "But the number offilms we pursue and don't get declines every year," Hebron said.

Though the festivaldoesn't have an official market, Hebron is hoping that the newly expandedindustry office will lure sales agents and distributors. "Two-thirds ofthe films we screen don't have UK distribution in place and there are alsofilms that don't have sales agents attached. We're not trying to set up amarket but just to make it easier for the industry delegates to see thatwork."

Reese Witherspoon is duein town to give a "Screen Talk" to support the screening of MiraNair's Vanity Fair. Kevin Bacon and David O. Russell are also givingscreen talks and there is a masterclass with Jonathan Demme.