U.S. actor George Clooney poses for photographers as arrives to speak about his new film Fantastic Mr. Fox in London, October 14, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

In a year when many film festivals sharply cut operations or closed due to the recession, the large AFI Film Festival that gets under way here on Friday has found a novel way to stay open -- give tickets away for free.

The AFI Film Festival annually serves as one of Los Angeles' major movie gatherings and is a launch pad for some Oscar hopefuls, and 2009 is no exception with the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, which features voice work by George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray, kicking off screenings.

Over the following eight days, films such as Precious: Based on the novel 'Push' by Sapphire, Everybody's Fine, starring Robert De Niro and Kate Beckinsale, and A Single Man, the directing debut of designer Tom Ford, will play.

Heading into 2009, financial sponsors began pulling out of other top movie gatherings such as the Sundance Film Festival, and AFI organizers began thinking it would be difficult for people to celebrate films at the end of a very tough year, AFI festival artistic director Rose Kuo told Reuters.

It was a crazy idea when it was thrown out, and then we started kicking it around, and it started not looking so crazy after all, Kuo said.

Kuo said that with their key sponsor, automaker Audi, still on board, the idea was dubbed See a Film on Us, and organizers began paring back events. The number of feature films, for instance, was reduced to 60 from about 100, and short films to 25 from around 50.

The result is that 100 percent of advance tickets were sold-out (make that given away), and Kuo expects wait lines to be equally packed.

For filmmakers, especially those who make independent or art-house movies that often screen at festivals, the free plan means packed houses for motion pictures that might not otherwise be seen.

The AFI Film Festival runs through November 5 in Hollywood at the famous Grauman's Chinese theater and adjacent Mann Chinese 6 cineplex, and has two final days, November 6-7, in Santa Monica that take place in conjunction with the American Film Market. The festival is organized by the American Film Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to cinematic education.