International politics creeps into LFF Awards

At an unusually political set of awards at the 2014 London Film Festival, it’s almost as if the BFI is trying to solve the world’s conflict through film; its main honours have been handed to films from Ukraine, Russia and Syria.

Leviathan producer Aleksandr Rodnyanskiy
Leviathan producer Aleksandr Rodnyanskiy

Despite the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, film makers from the two countries have shared the podium at the London Film Festival, where they took two of the main honours.

The best first feature jury said Ukraine’s audacious The Tribe distinguished itself as the most original and powerful of a varied and interesting line-up of films from around the world. Its writer-director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky has delivered a film set in a school for deaf children, acted entirely in sign language.

But the top award went to the Russian drama Leviathan, which won the screenplay award in Cannes. The British producer Jeremy Thomas, who chaired the jury, said the film’s grandeur and themes had moved all the members of the judging panel in the same way. It tells the story of a small man trying to protect his family from the machine of a corrupt state.

With both Ukraine and Russia having films honoured at the same ceremony, Leviathan’s producer Aleksandr Rodnyanskiy said he hoped that culture could help to unite the nations that he described more as relatives than just neighbours.

The best documentary award went to a Syrian film about life in the besieged city of Homs during the civil war, Silvered Water. The jurors said they had been deeply moved by an unflinching and poetic portrait. The film’s director, Ossama¬†Mohammed said this wasn’t his story, but that of the people of Syria and, like¬†Rodnyanskiy, hoped that film could help to bring normality to a conflict zone.

Best British Newcomer, Sameena Jabeen Ahmed
Best British Newcomer, Sameena Jabeen Ahmed

The London Film Festival also uses awards night to honour both newcomers to the industry and veterans.

Twenty two year old Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, from Blackburn, was named the Best British Newcomer for her portrayal of an Asian girl, on the run from her traditional parents with her white boyfriend, in Catch Me Daddy, beating her director Daniel Wolfe to the trophy.

And the versatile seventy three year old director Stephen Frears, whose career has been as varied as My Beautiful Launderette, Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity, The Queen and Philomena, was made a fellow of the BFI – the highest accolade handed out by the organisation.

With its awards ceremony now in its sixth year, the LFF’s top London Star trophy has gone to two French films, a Polish film, two Russian films and one British American co-production. The programmers and the jury are continuing to demonstrate that they are more interested in the art of film than the business, a consequence of which is that the festival gets less media coverage than more established festivals, such as Cannes, Berlin or Venice.

But opening with Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game and closing tonight with Brad Pitt’s Fury, with nearly 250 films in between, the BFI still nods towards the commercial films that will bring audiences to the festival, if not to the films it honours.