London Film Festival adds awards

Best film, British newcomer nods to be dished out

LONDON -- The introduction of an award for best film, an opening night gala held at two cinemas simultaneously and a keynote industry address by filmmaker and Focus Features chief James Schamus are just some of the changes and highlights for this year's Times BFI London Film Festival.

The event, fresh from a $2 million cash injection from the U.K. Film Council's lottery-fuelled cash pool, is aiming to bolster its lineup and make the British capital shindig a player on the international film festival circuit.

Organizers are introducing a standalone awards night to dish out plaudits including an award for best film for the first time ever on Oct. 28 this year.

Contenders for the fresh nod will be drawn up by LFF artistic director Sandra Hebron and her programming team before being judged by an "international jury of high profile directors, writers, producers and actors."

The festival is also debuting an award for the best British newcomer, destined for a new writer, producer or director who has demonstrated real creative flair and imagination with their first feature.

Who will host the nods and the venue, jury lineups, shortlists and design of the new award will be announced in late September.

Also the highest accolade that the British Film Institute bestows -- The Fellowship -- will be presented to two figures of international standing from the world of directing and acting.

The Sutherland Trophy awarded to the maker of the most original and imaginative first feature screening in the Festival and The Times BFI London Film Festival Grierson Award given to the best feature-length documentary feature will continue.

Hebron said Wednesday this year's event would be guaranteed its biggest opening gala ever after securing the use of two theaters in London's Leicester Square. Both venues will play host to the opening night movie "Fantastic Mr. Fox," from director Wes Anderson.

The inaugural industry keynote speech will be delivered by Schamus, a filmmaker, writer and studio chief.

This year's lineup boasts 191 features and 113 shorts screening alongside the usual mix of special events and expected guests.

Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Helen McCrory are all expected in town for the opening night movie.

An historically strong U.S. presence continues this year with Jason Reitman's "Up In The Air," Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man," "The Limits of Control," from Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant!" and "Trash Humpers" from cinema's enfant terrible Harmony Korine.

Hebron said: "I'm delighted that we have such a strong and varied programme this year, presenting new work from some of the world's most renowned directors alongside films from exciting new talents, and showcasing creativity and imagination from around the world."

The festival runs Oct. 14 – 29.