The EdinburghInternational Film Festival kicked off last night with the gala premiere of The Motorcycle Diaries, with director Walter Salles in attendance.

Before the the screening of the film, Salles said: "This is a film made with an open heart and passion and it's a privilege to be here at a festival with the same principles."

The premiere,held at Edinburgh's UGC cinema,marks the start of the twelve day festival in the Scottish capital - a festivalthat will showcase a wealth of international cinema and, according to festivaldirector Shane Danielsen, "a real diversity of British films."

Twelve Britishfilms play in the centerpiece British Gala section. The diversity, Danielsentold "runs fromsomething like Process by CS Leigh, aFrench British co-production, which is a real high flown, toned art movie allthe way through to the new Ken Loach film (AeFond Kiss). Between those two poles, everything is catered for - it's quiteextraordinary."

He added: "Peoplewho think British political cinema is dead should have a look at Antonia Bird'sHamburg Cell or Kenny Glanaan's Yasmin. We also have a Scottish martialarts movie, Richard Jobson's ThePurifiers - where did that come from. And there is also Richard Eyre's Stage Beauty, which to my mind isincredibly crowd friendly."

Five UK films willworld premiere at Edinburgh this year:Pawel Pawlikowski's highly anticipated rights of passage drama My Summer Of Love, Shane Meadow'srevenge tale Dead Man's Shoes, Hamburg Cell, The Purifiers and TerryLoane's Mickybo And Me.

Danielsen callsthe Gala section a snapshot of the British film year, one in which he is"trying to represent everything evenly and also show the best examples ofeverything but also the widest possible examples."

There are also worldpremieres for films such as Damien O'Donnell's Inside I'm Dancing and Chuck Parello's Hillside Strangler. UK premieres includefilms such as Im Sang-soo's A GoodLawyer's Wife, Ryoo Seung-wan's Arahan,Iciar Bollain's Take My Eyes andPetter Naess' Just Bea.

Edinburgh takes placethis year against a background of increased competition from rival events. Thenewly launched London Film Focus screenings showcase attracted many industryfigures earlier in the summer, while the sprawling London Film Festival inOctober is also an increasingly important fixture on the international festivalcalendar.

The Scottish press has also highlighted the lack of big name stars attracted to the film festival. Apart from Salles, the biggest name to attend the opening film last night was local comedian Billy Connolly. Actor Steven Berkoff and Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell were also present.

However,Danielsen says Edinburgh remains adifferent animal altogether from a festival likeLondon. "London is on the upas a festival," acknowledges Danielsen. "[Festival director] Sandra Hebron is avery good programmer. That said I think London serves itspurpose in that it is primarily perceived as a platform for release. It's wherebig stars go."

By way ofcomparison, Danielsen says the difference between two festivals is bestreflected in the posters they created last year to promote themselves. "Our poster was of a man holding a star behindhis back. The implication was that it was a surprise that was going to be given,like a box of chocolates. London's poster was acartoon graphic of a star on the red carpet with flashbulbs going off. Thosetwo things say more than I can ever say, more eloquently, about the differencebetween the two festivals. I'm not saying one is better or worse. I am sayingthey are very different. We're about surprise and discovery and astonishing anddelighting our audiences in ways they don't expect. I think you go to London knowing whatyou are going to get."