The Times BFI London Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday night (Oct 22) with the Gala Premiere of In The Cut, with director Jane Campion and stars Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo in attendance.

The film opened a 16-day long festival which, under artistic director Sandra Hebron, looks to have become an important staging post in the awards calendar - benefiting strongly from the decision to bring the Oscars and Baftas forward next year and from the ban on screener tapes.

Many films considered awards favourites - including The Girl With A Pearl Earring and Lost In Translation - will have Gala Premieres. An array of stars have also been drafted into support their films.

On top of the In The Cut cast, confirmed guests this year include Anthony Hopkins for The Human Stain, Scarlett Johansson for Lost In Translation and The Girl With A Pearl Earring, Holly Hunter for Thirteen, and Gwyneth Paltrow for Sylvia.

Directing talent includes Bernardo Bertolucci (The Dreamers), Denys Arcand (Barbarian Invasions), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams), Neil LaBute (The Shape Of Things), Lone Scherfig (Wilbur), Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation), Bent Hamer (Kitchen Stories), Roger Michell (The Mother), and Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen).

British Film Institute chief Anthony Minghella opened the festival with a long, impassioned speech. To warm audience applause, he spelt out a vision of a revitalised BFI supporting a wide range of cinema across Britain - including a flagship site in London where the LFF could be hosted.

"The BFI should hold its own festival in its own cinema (no offence to the Odeon), the biggest and best in the country, and should not be holding it's own party in someone else's cultural institute (no offence to the Saatchi Gallery)."

Director Jane Campion then introduced In The Cut, saying: "When we started making this film over a year ago, it was like assembling at the top of a tall building and jumping into the dream of the story'We didn't know where we would land - in the worst briar patch in the world, the desert, or the London Film Festival."