ESSEX business people have the chance to walk the red carpet at a film premiere and drink champagne with stars.

Sponsorship packages are on offer for the Southend Film Festival, now one of the country’s largest regional celebrations of the movies.

Essex-based businesses are expected to fill the financial gap left by the demise of the UK Film Council, which previously supplied about one third of the festival’s funding.

As in previous years, Southend Council remains the event’s main sponsor.

Festival director Paul Cotgrove says: “Businesses will get the chance to link their names closely to the glamour and excitement of cinema.”

Paul is director of the film company White Bus. He has organised and managed the annual festival on behalf of Southend Council since the inaugural event in 2009.

Among the benefits, companies get their names and logos printed in the festival programme, on advertising and promotional material, and on the festival website.

They can also sponsor individual films and promote their business during the screening.

The festival’s strongest card, however, is likely to be the rare chance to rub shoulders, Hollywood-style, with actors and film-makers.

Paul says: “Every sponsor will get two tickets for the gala premiere and the gala party afterwards.”

Previous gala night openings, at the Odeon cinema, Southend, have attracted many industry professionals and a scattering of familiar faces.

The special guest on the red carpet at the 2010 festival was Ray Winstone, whose film Fathers of Girls was chosen for the opening night premiere.

The tough-guy star also attended the gala party, hosted by the Park Inn Palace Hotel after the screening. The hotel is again the gala night sponsor for the 2011 festival.

Paul adds: “This year we are negotiating with a major international star and household name to be the festival’s guest star.”

l Sponsorship packages for the Southend Film Festival start at £1,000. Full details and application forms can be obtained by e-mailing, or by calling 07913 554385.

The festival opens with the gala night premiere on April 28, and continues until May 2.