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BFI LFF: 'Certain Women' scoops top prize; 2016 attendance breaks record

LFF Awards winners include Kelly Reichardt; audience attendance increases 18% from 2015 to record-breaking 184,700.

The BFI London Film Festival announced this year’s festival awards’ winners at its annual awards dinner at Banqueting House over the weekend, and revealed record-breaking attendances as the festival drew to a close on Sunday (Oct 16).

Audience attendance reached a record-breaking 184,700, an 18% increase from 157,000 last year. New temporary venue Embankment Garden Cinema, which hosted the festival’s strand galas and official competition films, played a significant role in the rise.

Best film in official competition went to Certain Women, Kelly Reichardt’s portrait of the lives of three very different women in Montana. The award was announced by jury president Athina Rachel Tsangari, whose film Chevalier won the best film prize last year.

The jury commented: “In a vibrant year for cinema it was the masterful mise en scène and quiet modesty of this film that determined our choice for best film. A humane and poignant story that calibrates with startling vulnerability and delicate understatement the isolation, frustrations and loneliness of lives unlived in a quiet corner of rural America.”

Tsangari’s fellow jurors were screenwriter Abi Morgan, Singaporean writer/director/producer Anthony Chen, actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Romanian film-maker Radu Jude.

The Sutherland Award for most original and imaginative first feature was awarded to Julia Ducournau for Raw, a playful coming-of-age body horror tale about a young woman’s insatiable appetite for flesh.

The award was presented by Suffragette director Sarah Gavron, who said: “It is a film that shocked and surprised us in equal measure. We admired the way the director did something completely unexpected with the genre. We enjoyed the outrageousness of the storytelling, and the glee with which events unfolded.”

The jury also gave a special commendation to Uda Benyamina’s Divines for its standout female performance from Oulaya Amamra and for its great energy and veracity.

The Grierson Award for best documentary went to Starless Dreams, directed, produced and written by Mehrdad Oskouei. The award recognises outstanding feature-length documentaries of integrity, originality, technical excellence or cultural significance.

Veteran documentarian Oskouei’s film is a complex portrait of juvenile delinquent women at the extreme margins of Iranian society.

UK documentarian Louise Osmond presented the award, commenting: “Starless Dreams is the story of young women in a juvenile detention centre in Iran. By that description you’d imagine a dark film exploring a bleak world of broken young lives. This film was the very opposite of that. It took us into a world none of us knew anything about and showed us a place full of humour, life and spirit… It’s a film that stays with you for a very long time.”

Best short film went to 9 Days - From My Window In Aleppo, directed by Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege and Floor van de Muelen.

The BFI Fellowship was presented to Steve McQueen by his frequent collaborator Michael Fassbender.

In presenting McQueen with his Fellowship, Fassbender praised the director as “one of the greats of cinema”. McQueen delivered a modest acceptance speech which paid tribute to the opportunities his free university education in the UK had offered for artistic self-exploration, while expressing concern that the next generation no longer had that option available to them.

The evening was hosted by Michael Sheen and featured an address from BFI Chair Josh Berger. Other guests included Abi Morgan, Alicia Vikander, Amma Asante, Anna Friel, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Bola Agbaje, David Nicholls, David Tennant, Florence Pugh, George Amponsah, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Maclean, Kerry Fox, Lily James, Matthew Macfadyen and Michael Fassbender, who presented the BFI Fellowship to this year’s recipient Steve McQueen.

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