The French director Jacques Audiard has won the top prize at the London Film Festival, for the second time in the four years it’s been handed out.
Although the London Film Festival is now in its 56th year, it’s only the fourth time that it’s staged an awards ceremony. The first London Star trophy for Best Film of the festival went to Jacques Audiard’s prison drama, A Prophet. Now, the judges have given him the award again, for Rust and Bone, about a killer whale trainer who loses a confrontation – and her legs – to one of her whales. The judges said Audiard was “one of only a very small handful of film-makers who has mastered and can integrate every element of the process” and his latest film was “full of heart, violence and love.” Like last time, Audiard wasn’t there to receive his award; it was collected by his lead actor, Matthias Schoenaerts.
The Best First Film award went to Benh Zeitlin, for a film which has already picked up prizes at Sundance and Cannes. It’s almost certain to be similarly honoured at the Independent Spirit Awards and is building a head of steam that could even see it recognised come Oscar night. The London Film Festival’s jury in this category said that from a strong field, one stood out as most clearly deserving of the top prize, recognising innovation and originality: “Benh Zeitlin’s daringly vast, richly detailed Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
A film about British Arabs trying to survive gangland Hackney, My Brother the Devil, won Sally El Hosaini the prize for the Best British Newcomer, against strong competition from the directors and actors behind films including Broken and Shell. El Hosaini said she wasn’t expecting to win, so she was over the moon. She’d been unwell during the festival and was actually missed her own premiere as she’d been in hospital. “I was only discharged from hospital this afternoon and dragged myself here tonight. I’m so glad I did.” After awards success in Sundance and Berlin, she says it was a joy to bring the film home.
The other film award was for the Best Documentary. That went to Alex Gibney, for Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, his examination of paedophilia in the Catholic Church.
The BFI – which organises the London Film Festival – used the event to bestow its highest honour – the Fellowship – on the couple who bookended the ceremony and the festival itself; Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie opened the festival and Helena Bonham Carter is in Great Expectations, which closes the event.
“It’s such an honour, I can’t really believe it,” enthused Los Angeles born Burton, delighted by the way he’s been taken in by the leading film institution in his adopted Britain, a country, he believes, treats film more like an art than a business. He said he was particularly honoured to be presented with his blue, glass trophy by the veteran actor Sir Christopher Lee, one of the reasons he wanted to be in movies in the first place, he enthused.
The London Film Festival introduced the awards ceremony in 2009 to try to boost its status among other festivals around the world. Cannes is perhaps the most prestigious – while Toronto is the biggest, screening the most films to the most people. The BFI seems to be struggling to know whether to aim for prestige or breadth – for quality or quantity, in a sense.
But with the British Film Institute now overseeing both production AND exhibition in the UK, it’s clearly stepping up its efforts to strengthen Britain’s reputation on the international film-making stage.