"We hired the Working Men's College at Mornington Crescent - Fritz Lang screened a film and talked to us until 2am." Mike Leigh has fond memories of his time studying at the London Film School. The list of luminaries who dropped in to share their wisdom trips off his tongue: "Hitchcock, Truffaut, John Huston, Godard..." One of Britain's most successful film directors (most recently with Vera Drake) and theatre practitioners, Leigh enrolled at the LFS in 1964 after completing courses at Rada and Camberwell College of Arts.
He is one of a host of alumni wishing the institution happy 50th birthday this year. To celebrate, the National Film Theatre is running A Tradition of Innovation: The London Film School, a season of films made by LFS graduates, including Michael Mann's Heat, Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia and Horace Ové's Pressure. Leigh's 1984 treatment of Thatcher's Britain, Meantime, which the cinematographer and LFS graduate Roger Pratt shot, is also showing.
As chairman of the LFS, Leigh will also debate the impact of formal film education on British culture. "In the Sixties, virtually everybody one spoke to in the industry was pretty dismissive of the idea of a film school. The standard quote was, 'David Lean started by sweeping the cutting-room floor,'" he says.
"My own view is that to be in a protective environment with a bunch of comrades, learning the medium and making mistakes, is a very healthy thing indeed. What we learnt is that you don't make films on your tod." The LFS was established in 1956 on just such a principle. Originally located above a shop on Brixton's Electric Avenue, it is now in Covent Garden.
Leigh's Two Thousand Years is back at the National Theatre, but he considers himself to be "primarily, and with great passion" a film-maker. "I have a more equivocal relationship with theatre. It is not, as I put it, my proper job."
2-30 June, National Film Theatre, London SE1 (020-7928 3232, www.bfi.org.uk/nft)