The Times BFI London Film Festival is pumping half of its $3m (£1.8m) cash windfall from the UK Film Council into this year’s edition.

The $1.5m (£900,000) will be spent on its first awards ceremony, announced this morning (September 9), more aggressive marketing and additional press conferences and on upgrading the festival’s services.

It has also contributed to the festival’s biggest opening night to date with Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox kicking off the event with screenings in both the Odeon Leicester Square and - half an hour later - in the Empire Cinema.

Meanwhile, an array of illustrious names will be in town to give masterclasses and speeches, among them James Schamus, chief executive of Focus Features (and also screenwriter of Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, which screens in the Festival’s Film On The Square section) who will be delivering a keynote industry speech, and film-makers including Jane Campion and Gaspar Noe.

As reported on ScreenDaily in April, the UKFC decided to award the one-off additional money to LFF this year after turning it down in 2008 because its plans did not show enough ambition. The money is to be spent over three years and must be matched with funds raised by the festival’s organisers.

It is hoped the cash injection will help LFF compete on a more even footing with other festivals. Sandra Hebron, LFF festival director, said: “The idea is very much to raise the festival both in terms of its public address but also in terms of its relationship with the industry. A lot of the things we’re doing are about trying to bring the festival up to a level of parity with festivals internationally that operate on a similar scale.”

She added that the festival’s operating budget was previously “roughly half of what a festival like Toronto might have”, and that the new money has helped to bring the event up to the level that people should expect from a city such as London.

Prior to the UKFC injection, the LFF annual budget was between $7m (£4.2m) and $7.4m (£4.5m) a year. Organisers plan to spend a further $1.1m (£650,000) of its windfall next year and the remaining $414,097 (£250,000) on the 2011 edition.

Meanwhile, the festival is also seeking a new sponsor as The Times is pulling out fo the events after seven years.
“Our development team are hard at working trying to find either a title sponsor or a main sponsor,” Hebron said. “I am not sure that given the choice, a title sponsor would be the route that we go down.”