By Kathi Urban and Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - The London film festival opens on Wednesday with the European premiere of Tim Burton's stop-motion 3D animation drama "Frankenweenie", kicking off the 12-day cinema showcase where more than 220 movies and documentaries will be screened.
It closes on October 21 with another European premiere, Mike Newell's adaptation of the classic Dickens novel "Great Expectations" starring Ralph Fiennes as Abel Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham.
While not yet on a par with other festivals like Cannes and Toronto, which feature world premieres in their official selections, London allows people living in the capital to catch up with the latest arthouse movies from around the globe.
There will be stars on the red carpet too, most notably on October 18 when the Rolling Stones, one of rock'n'roll's biggest bands celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2012, appear to promote a new documentary "Crossfire Hurricane".
The movie, which is set to some of the group's most famous tracks, will focus mainly on the first 20 years, including the death in 1969 of founder member Brian Jones, musicians coming and going and memorable live performances.
The London film festival's new director Clare Stewart said several of the bigger titles would be screened at dozens of cinemas across Britain simultaneously with the premieres.
"Audiences around the UK will not only have the opportunity to see the film simultaneous to its premiere at Leicester Square ... but we'll also have the opportunity to see the red carpet action via live satellite," she told Reuters.
Asked whether she would like to see more world premieres at the festival, she replied that several British films would debut in London.
"World premieres are only important in one context and that's about international media and reach, and that's important. But that's by no means the only reason for a festival," she added.
Other big names appearing in London to promote their movies include Maggie Smith for Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut "Quartet", Ben Affleck for his spy thriller "Argo" and Helen Hunt for "The Sessions".
Among the movies Stewart has highlighted this year is "Wadjda", which first screened in Venice last month, made by Saudi Arabia's first female director Haifaa Al Mansour.
Mansour is one of 12 debut directors shortlisted for the Sutherland Award honoring first-time filmmakers, as the festival aims to boost the profile of its prizes.
The main competition, also 12-strong and to be decided by a jury led by playwright and screenwriter David Hare, includes "After Lucia" from Mexico, "Fill the Void" from Israel, "Ginger and Rosa" from Britain and "In the House" from France.
At this year's awards ceremony on October 20 at the grand Banqueting House in central London, Burton and Bonham Carter will both receive a BFI Fellowship, the highest honor given by the British Film Institute industry body.
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)