Writer-director Kelly Reichardt’s spare and subtle Montana drama Certain Women won the best-picture prize on Saturday at the London Film Festival, while 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen received a major career award.
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 during the festival’s black-tie awards ceremony at London’s 17th-century Banqueting House.
Iranian director Mehrdad Oskouei’s portrait of teenage inmates, Starless Dreams, was named best documentary, and Syrian photographer Issa Touma’s 9 Days — From My Window in Aleppo won the short-film prize.
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.When the award was announced last month, BFI chairman Josh Berger said McQueen “has consistently explored the endurance of humanity — even when it is confronted by inhumane cruelty — with a poetry and visual style that he has made his own.”
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.
The 12-day event screened some 250 features, and also included a symposium on why black actors remain underrepresented on-screen in Britain and the United States.
The festival wraps up on Sunday with Free Fire, a 1970s-set comic thriller by British director Ben Wheatley.