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London Film Festival 2007

  • Story Highlights
  • London Film Festival hosts the premiere for Robert Redford's latest movie
  • "Lions for Lambs" features Redford alongside Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise
  • Woody Allen, Gwyneth Paltrow sing praises of working in Britain
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By Neil Curry
CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- From Harry Potter to Beatrix Potter, Bond to Borat, David Lean to Mr Bean, British cinema, the skills of British actors, directors and technicians have long been respected around the globe. And as the London Film Festival opens in the British capital, one of the starring roles is the city itself.

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Tom Cruise chats to Myleene at the premiere of his latest film, "Lions for Lambs"

Squeezed between Venice, Toronto and New York on one hand and the newcomer Rome on the other, London boasts a showcase of films from 43 countries, including one notable world premiere: Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs."

Sandra Hebron, the artistic director of the London Film Festival, told CNN, "It's a huge coup for the festival to have the world premiere for 'Lions for Lambs.' It's a great film with very, very fine talent associated with it: directed by Robert Redford, who also appears in the film with Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.

"It's a real signal of confidence in the festival, that we can host that sort of event. Of course, it means that Leicester Square will be completely buzzing."

Leicester Square is the traditional home of the British premiere and on opening night it belonged to Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen and director David Cronenberg, who shot their Russian mob movie "Eastern Promises" in London. Read David Cronenberg talking about "Eastern Promises" at the Toronto Film Festival.

Hollywood names such as Woody Allen have an ongoing love for swinging London. He's directed three films in the city in recent years, contributing to its status as the biggest production center outside the U.S..

At the Venice Film Festival, he told the Screening Room, "I certainly would love to make another film in London. It is an extremely seductive place to work because it is an extremely nice place to live for the long period of time it takes to make the film.

"The conditions of filmmaking are very ideal: the weather is cool, the skies are gray, and that's very good for the kind of photography I like to do. They also have an extremely high level of professional people in all the aspects of film making."

Britain has even lured Hollywood stars to make their homes here. Gwyneth Paltrow is an American who's worked extensively with British actors and crews, including current release "The Good Night" -- the directorial debut of her brother Jake. She said, "I think I've made more films in Britain than anywhere else in the world.

"My experience is that making a film in London or across Britain -- and I've worked in every corner of the British Isles almost -- is that there's an amazing respect for everybody's craft here. It's very artful -- you don't get the sense, as you sometime do in America, that it's a product and an export. You get a sense in Britain that people are incredibly proud and respectful of what they're doing and that what they're doing is important and it's very specific to this country.

"I absolutely love working here. It's very inspiring."

But others are concerned that the independence of British cinema has suffered from its close ties to Hollywood.

Johanna von Fischer from the British Independent Film Awards told the Screening Room, "It's getting people to see the films; it's getting the audiences to want to see those films. Whatever you say, there is a tendency when you go to the cinema, you see there's the latest Tom Cruise film and then there's the latest British and you want a night off and you think 'oh, I'll go to the Tom Cruise film', not realizing that actually the British film is just as good, just as interesting, just as relevant, well-made and worth seeing."

And British director Ken Loach fears that his country's film industry is in danger of losing its unique flavor. "There are different cinema traditions in France, Spain and other European countries," he said. "There's a much stronger intellectual tradition. Cinema is seen in a more serious way. You think of the Italian neorealist movement, or the French new wave, the Czech films of the 60s or Bergman's films from Scandinavia, or Spain and its surrealist tradition.

"We have been so dominated by American cinema, purely because we share the same language, that we have run out of space in British cinema for those other movements. British cinema has always been squeezed out and we have to play the Uncle Tom, presenting ourselves to the imperialists in a way that they find acceptable. We've already looked across the Atlantic too much instead of looking to Europe... We just get squeezed out."

And British actor Jude Law shares some of Loach's concerns. "I think we've got to learn how to be ourselves again on film," he said. "Even when we have 'quintessential English films' [like those of] Mike Leigh, Ken Loach. It's a shame that we find it hard to put our own language, our own society, down honestly on film without pandering to other societies."

Britain is currently riding the crest of success that came to its films and actors in last year's awards ceremonies, most notably for "The Queen," featuring British actress Helen Mirren's regal performance. The British Film Festival's Sandra Hebron told CNN that those achievements should inspire the industry to reach even greater heights.

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"I do think that last year was so amazing that everybody is still enjoying the sort of 'high' that gave," she said. "Success, including award success, is very important to the UK industry as a whole. There is a tendency to bemoan the situation here."

And to confound the doubters, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy are flying the flag for British culture with their critically-acclaimed film "Atonement" -- leading to whispered hopes of further success for British cinema at the next Oscars Awards... E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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