'Baby' delayed in U.K., pulled from LFF


LONDON -- The release of Ben Affleck's anticipated directorial debut, "Gone Baby Gone," has been put on hold in the U.K. because it is similar to the ongoing real life case of Madeleine McCann, who went missing in May in Portugal.

Word of the decision by Buena Vista International U.K. to hold back the thriller was highlighted Thursday at an event for the 51st edition of the London Film Festival. Artistic director Sandra Hebron said the film had been withdrawn from the festival.

Speaking to a packed theater auditorium in the heart of London's West End, Hebron said that the festival team supported the withdrawal of Affleck's film by distributor BVI, adding that the decision had been made for "the right reasons" and that everyone was behind it.

"Buena Vista has put the release date back for the film given the circumstances," she said. "We (at the LFF) are very supportive of the decision, and everyone wishes the film's withdrawal wasn't under the circumstances it is under."

The McCann case has been dominating news programming and headlines not just in the U.K. but also around the world -- particularly because the parents of the missing toddler have been named by Portugese police as prime suspects. According to news reports, the McCann parents, who led an international public relations campaign appealing for the return of the missing child, could be charged in connection with the disappearance at any time by Portugese authorities. They recently returned home to the U.K., but they could be required to return to Portugal. Their daughter went missing from a holiday hotel bedroom when the parents were out to dinner during a vacation in Portugal.

The Affleck film is not based on the McCann case but on a book about a 4-year-old who goes missing in Boston. But similarities between reality and fiction and the emotions about the McCann case in the U.K. prompted the decision to delay the release.

"Miramax Films and BVI U.K. are sensitive to the depth of feeling surrounding the disappearance of Madeleine McCann," a BVI spokesperson said. "We have been closely following the case and have decided to delay the release of the film in the U.K."

Meanwhile, Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs" and Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" will both premiere in gala slots at this year's 51st edition of the London Film Festival, organizers said Thursday.

Redford's Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep starrer will take its world bow at the festival, which features 12 gala screenings, Hebron said.

U.S. movies and moviemakers dominate the glamour gala slots at this year's event with Todd Haynes' unconventional look at Bob Dylan in "I'm Not There," Jason Reitman's teenage pregnancy dramedy "Juno," Susanne Bier's U.S. family tragedy "Things We Lost in the Fire" and Andrew Dominik's Western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" all taking slots.

Michael Moore's "Sicko" takes this year's documentary gala slot, while Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner's animated romp penned by Jerry Seinfeld, "Bee Movie," will unspool at this year's family gala.

Even movies from outside the U.S. making it into the gala program include U.S. painter and director Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," which debuted to critical acclaim during May's Festival de Cannes.

The Palme d'Or-winning Romanian drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" also takes a gala slot, while Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" -- fresh from its success at this month's Venice Film Festival -- also appears. Carlos Reygados' movie from his own script, "Silent Light," is this year's World Cinema gala.

Hebron said that this year's strong gala lineup isn't down to geography alone. "High-profile slots get high-profile films, but what other film festival in the world would have a documentary gala or a world cinema gala?" she added.

This year's festival includes about 183 features and 133 shorts as well as a host of screen talks, masterclasses and live events.

The festival, which runs Oct. 17-Nov. 1 opens with David Cronenberg's London-set Russian gangster film "Eastern Promises" and closes with Wes Anderson's brotherly surreal romp "The Darjeeling Limited."

British filmmaking talent is strongly represented by Penny Woolcock's "Exodus," Garth Jennings' "Son of Rambow," Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha," Asif Kapadia's "Far North" and Richard Attenborough's "Closing the Ring."

"In a very strong year for world cinema, we are delighted to be able to present such a wide-ranging and high-quality program of films and special events, in which work by internationally renowned directors sits comfortably alongside that from many exciting new talents," Hebron said.