ABOVE PHOTO: Steve McQueen (Photo: Tinseltown / shutterstock)
By Jill Lawless
LONDON — Writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s spare and subtle Montana drama “Certain Women” has won the best-picture prize at the London Film Festival, while “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen received a major career award.
The festival wraps up Sunday with “Free Fire,” a 1970s-set comic thriller by British director Ben Wheatley.
McQueen, a filmmaker and Turner Prize-winning video artist, was presented with the British Film Institute Fellowship — the organization’s highest honor — by Michael Fassbender. The Irish actor has appeared in all three of the director’s feature films – “Hunger,” ‘’Shame” and “12 Years a Slave.”
Fassbender called McQueen, whose movies have tackled subjects including starvation, addiction and slavery, “a rarity – both a sensitive and a dangerous man.”
McQueen, 47, said “there’s only two things I’m sure about: One, I’m Black … Two, I’m a Londoner.”
He credited Britain’s previous system of free higher education for giving him the freedom to “explore, experiment and make mistakes.” Students now face thousands of pounds a year in tuition fees.
“It seems that freedom is being slowly eroded,” McQueen said.
The 60-year-old London festival has sought this year to encourage diversity in the film industry, opening with Amma Asante’s “A United Kingdom.” A tale of interracial love and politics inspired by real events, it marked the first time that a Black female director has held the prestigious opening slot at the festival.
As well as hosting premieres and red-carpet galas, the festival gathered performers, producers and filmmakers to discuss why Black actors remain underrepresented onscreen in Britain and the United States.
During the festival’s black-tie awards ceremony Saturday at London’s 17th-century Banqueting House, a jury headed by Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari praised the masterful imagery and quiet modesty of Reichardt’s film about three women – played by Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams and Laura Dern – struggling with life in a chilly small town.
The director is known for moving, minimalist dramas including “Wendy and Lucy” and “Meek’s Cutoff.”
“Certain Women” beat other nominees including Paul Verhoeven’s provocative revenge thriller “Elle;” Barry Jenkins’ Miami coming-of-age drama “Moonlight;” and Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s poet biopic “Neruda.”
French director Julia Ducournau’s horror story “Raw” was named best first feature. Jurors praised the “outrageousness” of the film, which Ducournau called a crossover “between comedy, drama and body horror.”
Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei’s portrait of teenage inmates, “Starless Dreams,” was named best documentary, and Syrian photographer Issa Touma’s unflinching “9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo” won the short-film prize.
The 12-day festival screened some 250 documentary and fiction features across London.