John Landis in Conversation - Burke & Hare Premiere at the International Rome Film Festival 2010

John Landis photographs crowds lining red carpet at Rome Film Festival
The start of the fifth edition of the International Rome Film Festival on Thursday this week made the headlines in both national and international press, not as organisers had planned, because of the red carpet appearance of Keira Knightley and Eva Mendes, stars of the opening film Last Night, but because of an unprecedented demonstration by Italian film industry workers who occupied the red carpet completely and forced the cancellation of the event. In a show of solidarity with the hundreds of actors, directors, screenwriters and other industry workers who were protesting against government cuts to the film and TV industry, Knightley even joined the protest briefly.

On Day 2, however, it was business as usual at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, as French actress Fanny Ardant and American film director John Landis, amongst others, took their strolls up the red carpet, stopping to chat to fans and sign the odd autograph. I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the world première of Landis' new film Burke & Hare, which was preceded by an encounter with the director in Sala Petrassi.

Presented as part of the Cinema Lessons series in the Extra section of the festival programme, presided over by erstwhile Extra organisers Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti, the encounter followed the usual formula for these interviews, in which actors and directors chat in a relaxed way between clips from their movies. With such an eloquent and generous guest, however, and one with a seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema, the movie clips were hardly necessary to stimulate conversion, with Landis happily diving off at entertaining tangents and discussing everything from the greatest gorilla suit actors to the war in Iraq. It emerged, in fact, that Landis doesn't really enjoy seeing bits of his films taken out of context, with one clip in particular yesterday highlighting a pet gripe of the director – during the cafeteria scene in Animal House, in which John Belushi fills his tray (and his face!) with as much food as possible, the soundtrack features Sam Cooke singing Wonderful World...or rather, should feature that song. The Italian DVD version has some stock music in its place because of copyright issues – unfortunately, the new music had been added to the film with neither the director's knowledge or consent! This irritation aside, however, Landis spoke extremely warmly of working with Belushi, describing him as a talented and good person who had tragically died because of the illness that is substance addiction, dismissing recent conspiracy theories about the circumstances surrounding the actor's death. Indeed, Landis isn't one for conspiracy theories of any kind - his comments about Oliver Stone's movie JFK were hilarious: I love that film, it's beautifully made... but totally insane! - or words to that effect!

John Landis is a director who has made several very different films which have all gone on to acquire cult status. In addition to Animal House, which elicited inevitable ripples of applause from the audience, the biggest cheers were reserved for the Oscar-winning special effects sequences of An American Werewolf in London, the song and dance sequences in The Blues Brothers and the ground-breaking music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller. Landis even shared a couple of old fashioned pre-CGI tricks of the trade that were used for the werewolf transformation and the creation of a hand painted full moon backdrop in American Werewolf and expressed a nostalgia for less computer-dependent film-making.

Burke & Hare, which marks Landis' return to the screen after a ten year absence, is enormously entertaining, by the way. For anybody that loves the black humour of the classic British movies that came out of the Ealing Studios during the 1950s (with a touch of Carry On thrown in), this is a must see! Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis do a wonderful job of making the 19th century grave robbers sympathetic characters, but it's also a who's who of British acting and comedy talent with some marvellous turns by Ronnie Corbett, Jessica Hynes and Tom Wilkinson, and fleeting cameos by Christopher Lee and Stephen Merchant. Catch it if you can!