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The Independent Culture
The London Film Festival, now in its 36th year, has come a long way since the idea was conceived over dinner at a party hosted by the critic Dilys Powell. This year's line-up, announced yesterday, constitutes Europe's largest non-competitive festival.

The opening night gala, on 5 November, showcases Peter's Friends, Kenneth Branagh's third film as actor/director. Also starring Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson, the film focuses on the reunion, 10 years on, of a university theatrical troupe, and has been described variously as the 'British Big Chill' and 'The Return of the Oxbridge Seven'.

Closing the festivities on 22 November is the UK premiere of the director's cut of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott's ground-breaking sci-fi thriller. Gone from this new version are the forced upbeat ending of the 1982 release and Harrison Ford's frankly annoying voice-over.

One new feature of this year's festival is the introduction of a cash award for British film-makers, the Gold Bier Audience Award. This offers a pounds 10,000 cash prize for the 'most popular fiction feature' in the British section of the festival. The winner will be decided by the democratic device of an audience vote, and the prize-money will be used to boost the film's promotional budget.

This year's Panorama France section promises screenings of Alain Corneau's Tous les Matins du Monde, a commercial and critical hit last year, starring Gerard Depardieu as the 17th-century cellist Marin Marais; Eric Rohmer's A Winter's Tale; and Jean-Jacques Beineix's IP5, with the late Yves Montand in his last screen role.

The highlight of the Panorama Italy section is the British premiere of Johnny Stecchino, the highest grossing film in Italian history, a Mafia comedy co-written, starring and directed by Roberto Benigni (recently cast as Peter Sellers' forgotten offspring in the Clouseau series).

Elsewhere, there are screenings of Sofie, Liv Ullmann's directorial debut; Of Mice and Men, a new adaptation of Steinbeck's novel starring John Malkovich; Irwin Winkler's Night and the City, with Robert de Niro and Jessica Lange; and the complete cycle of Die Zweite Heimat, Edgar Reitz's 26-hour sequel to the extraordinary Heimat, taking up where the earlier film left off. Whoopi Goldberg makes two festival appearances: in the hugely-successful nuns-on-the-run comedy Sister Act, and the Soweto-set musical Sarafina]. All screenings are open to the public.

London Film Festival: 5-22 Nov. Tickets are available from 30 Oct (071-928 3232). Programme calenders are available from 15 Oct (071- 928 2695).

A screenwriter with a grievance is seeking to wreak his revenge by adopting as a pen- name a common profanity, rumoured to rhyme with duck. The writer, Jerico Stone, applied to register the name with the Writer's Guild of America after being stripped of a co-screenwriter credit for his work on Joe Dante's forthcoming Matinee. Stone retains a share of the 'story by' credit, and it is here that he hopes to get his name noticed. So far, however, the Guild has refused his request, though the writer is planning an appeal.