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47th London Film Festival hailed as the best yet



Story by: Jack Foley

THE Times bfi 47th London Film Festival (Oct 22 - Nov 6) came to a close on November 6, with the European Premiere screening at the Odeon Leicester Square of Sylvia - the bittersweet, and ultimately tragic tale, of American writer Sylvia Plath's turbulent life with poet, Ted Hughes.

The closing night gala was attended by cast members Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.

In the 16 days since its launch, Europe's most popular non-competitive public film festival was host to an eclectic programme of some 180 feature films, and 120 shorts, from 45 countries - from perfectly formed three-minute shorts to an experimental Chinese epic of over nine hours.

The Festival featured over 350 public screenings, including four World Premieres, 29 European Premieres, and 133 UK Premieres.

There were 123 sold-out public screenings (up from 118 in 2002), and total audiences exceeded 115,000, which was a 5% increase on last year.

The Festival was attended by over 700 industry Delegates, and 670 international press delegates, from over 40 countries. There were 45 educational events, which nearly 5,000 people attended during the festival and in the month leading up to it.

"We are extremely proud of the festival programme this year," commented Sandra Hebron, festival artistic director.

"The quality of the films on offer, the range of galas and special events, and the illuminating participation of the visiting film-makers has made the The Times bfi 47th London Film Festival such a great success.

"The response from both audiences and industry across the full range of what amounts to a fairly challenging programme has been tremendous, and, once again, the festival has earned its place as one of the most vital, enjoyable and memorable cinematic events of the year."

She added: "The festival has been a resounding cultural success for the British Film Institute.

"I would like to thank all our partners and sponsors who helped make the Festival possible, particularly The Times, whose generous support has played a key role in leading the festival forward and bringing both new and established film-making talent to a wider audience."

The festival opened on October 22 with In The Cut, director Jane Campion's bold and provocative psychological thriller, which was screened in the presence of its director and leading actors, Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo.

Gala Screenings to follow included: Peter Webber's Girl With a Pearl Earring, starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson (The Times Gala); Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, with Bill Murray (American Airlines Gala); The Dreamers, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci (Berkmann Wine Cellars Gala); The Mother, directed by Roger Michell and starring Anne Reid and Daniel Craig (British Gala, supported by the Mayor of London and Film London); The Barbarian Invasions (Centrepiece Gala); Casa De Los Babys (Time Out First Night), directed by John Sayles, and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden, Susan Lynch, Daryl Hannah and Lili Taylor, and 21 Grams, by Alejandro González Inárritu, and starring Sean Penn, Benicio Del Torro and Naomi Watts (Orange Special Screening).

The Orange Film on the Square strand featured an outstanding line-up of films, from Hector Babenco's humanitarian epic, Carandiru; Siddiq Barmak's Osama, set in post-Taliban Afghanistan; Lars Von Trier's eagerly awaited Dogville; Errol Morris's formidable documentary Fog Of War, and Guy Maddin's enigmatic The Saddest Music In The World, to Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi, Catherine Hardwicke's directorial debut, Thirteen and Kevin Macdonald's breath-taking Touching The Void.

Stars and film-makers from across the world participated in this year's festival, including directors: Denys Arcand, Hector Babenco, Robert Benton, Bernardo Bertolucci, Nuri Bilge Celan, Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Guest, Alejandro González Inárritu, Neil LaBute, Guy Maddin, Roger Michell, Hana Makhmalbaf, Julio Medem, Mark and Michael Polish, Gabriele Salvatores, David Thewlis, and Frederick Wiseman.

Other actors and special guests joining the festival this year included: Kate Ashfield, Elodie Bouchez, Tracy Chevalier, Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Hopkins, Ian Hart, Shirley Henderson, Holly Hunter, John Hurt, Kazuo Ishiguro, Brian Keenan, Hanif Kureishi, Gerard Lanvin, Eugene Levy, Susan Lynch, Kevin McKidd, Joseph McFadden, Stephen Mackintosh, John McCarthy, Peter Mullan, Sarah Polley, Anne Reid, Dougray Scott, and Naomi Watts.

One of the film industry's best-kept secrets, the Surprise Film, was Richard Linklater's US smash hit, School Of Rock, starring Jack Black.

There was also a very successful archive programme strand which included three titles from the bfi National Film and Television Archive: Tillie's Punctured Romance, The Queen Of Spades and Summer Madness.

Complementing the screenings, the festival offered a programme of riveting special events, including the widely-acclaimed Guardian Interviews, which this year featured Q&As with Neil LaBute and Holly Hunter.

There were also a series of Masterclasses which gave audiences a chance to get the inside track with, amongst others: cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle; avant-garde film-maker Ken Jacobs - who lectured on the merits of failure; production designer Mark Tildesley and actor/writer/director Christopher Guest.

The Platform Events, organised in association with Time Out, featured four panel discussions - on subjects ranging from music and cinema, to discussions on the reaction among film-makers since 9/11 - which aimed to provide a free forum for provocative discussion amongst film-makers, industry professionals and audiences.

There were 45 educational events during the festival, including 16 screening events; two shorts programmes; 10 educational seminar events; hands-on opportunities for groups to try composing for film and editing; 12 workshops for children including animation directing; training events for teachers of media and film, and a reminiscence session for senior citizens following the screening of Summer Madness.

The bfi's prestigious Sutherland Trophy was awarded on Closing Night to Osama, directed by Siddiq Barmak.

The first feature from post-Taliban Afghanistan, the judges decided that Barmak's unique story was the 'most original and imaginative first feature in the festival'.

The festival's highly-prized 6th Fipresci International Critics' Award was presented at the Closing Night Gala to Le Monde Vivant (The Living World), directed by Eugene Green, by a panel of international film critics, who described the winning film as: "A graceful, joyous and entirely unpredictable film, steeped in medieval mythology, in Bresson, Rohmer and Lacan; a film of ogres, knights and lions. A delight."

The 8th annual Satyajit Ray Award was awarded to the Danish film Someone Like Hodder, directed by Henrik Ruben Genz. The film is awarded annually to the first time feature director whose film the jury believe best captures the compassion and humanism of Ray's vision.

The TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Classic Shorts 'Short Film Award' was awarded in a ceremony on Wednesday evening (Nov 5) to The Most Beautiful Man In The World, directed by Alicia Duffy.

Second place went to The Bypass, by Amit Kumar, with Brown Paper Bag, by Michael Baig Clifford, in third position.

For the 6th year running, the bfi London Film Festival is touring a selection of highlights from the festival to audiences throughout the UK from November 7 - 23.

The touring programme, drawn from all the major feature strands of the LFF, will visit Glasgow, Exeter, Bradford, Nottingham, Newcastle, Manchester and Canterbury.

The diverse films which will tour are: Northfork, Valentin, Dogville, The Decay of Fiction, Afertlife, I'm Not Scared and Summer Madness.

The 47th Times bfi London Film Festival Sponsors

Title Sponsor: The Times. Main Sponsors: American Airlines, Berkmann Wine Cellars. Sponsors: The Guardian, Orange, Sky Movies, Turner Classic Movies. Media Partners: Time Out, NTL: Home Broadband, Empire, BBC London. In-Kind Sponsors: Carlton Screen Advertising, Soho House, Hadham Water, Champagne Jacquesson, Sofitel St James, Audi, White Star Line, Odeon, Midnite Express, Stella Artois. Funding Contributor: The Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

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