BFI LFF 2021: Awards

And the winners are…

BFI LFF 2021 Awards

Best Film Award (Official Competition)
Hit the Road – Panah Panahi

Panah Panahi’s thrilling debut is by turns tender, quirky, even laugh-out-loud funny – a wondrously-observed reflection on family and the ambivalence of saying goodbye.

Like every great road movie, Panahi’s drama is all about the journey. In the chaotic claustrophobia of the car, an energetic child (Rayan Sarlak) clambers over his surly father (Hassan Madjooni) whose broken leg – and mood – take up considerable space. In the front, mother (Pantea Panahiha) fusses over her other son in the driver’s seat (Amin Simiar), whose sullen face stays fixed on the deserted horizon. Nobody mentions where they are going, but knowledge of their unspoken destination causes concern, turning despair into affection and some very eccentric behaviour. The car stutters along to a bold, brilliant soundtrack of 1970s Iranian pop, full of heart, nostalgia and the melancholy of separation.

Deftly navigating a sea of conflicting emotions, Panahi’s debut heralds an exciting new talent. This journey along the dusty road of life is a treasure that might just break your heart.

Malgorzata Szumowska, Official Competition President said:

“The Best Film Award recognises inspiring and distinctive filmmaking that captures the essence of cinema. The essence of life!

At all times in cinema history, but perhaps during a pandemic especially, we are looking for ways to connect to life. Our choice is for a film that made us laugh and cry and feel alive.”

Sutherland Award (First Feature Competition)
Playground – Laura Wandel

he harsh world of playground politics is seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl in a gripping debut from Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel. The original title, meaning ‘a world’, suggests that a school is a self-enclosed universe with its own customs and abuses – and a microcosm of the injustices outside.
Nora (mesmerising newcomer Maya Vanderbeque) arrives in a new school, nervous about leaving her dad and yearning for the protection of big brother Abel (Günter Duret). In fact, it’s Abel who faces bullying – and when Nora tries to help him, his ordeal only worsens. Laura Wandel’s extraordinary debut is a triumph in terms of focus and concision, with the action restricted to the school premises and the camera held exactly at Nora’s child’s-eye height. Arguably one of the best films ever made about childhood; without doubt, one of the most gripping, and lucidly truthful.
Isabel Sandoval, First Feature Competition President said:
“It’s an intimate film that everyone can identify with and connect with, and yet has a striking and singular voice, with a courageous commitment to its vision. It has a visceral ability to capture beautifully and clearly how we are shaped by our experiences, and through an insular setting shows us a microcosm for the human condition, laying bare the power dynamics of people. It left us wanting to see more from this bold, audacious filmmaker.”

The Sutherland Award jury also gave a Special Commendation to SMALL BODY, directed by Laura Samani:

“We want to give a special mention to Small Body for its intense naturalism and fable-like qualities, that immersed us in another world.”

Grierson Award (Documentary Competition)
Becoming Cousteau – Liz Garbus

This riveting doc brings a fresh take on the life of the inspiring inventor, explorer, environmentalist and filmmaker Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau. From tirelessly sailing the seas aboard his famous ship Calypso – capturing staggering images for the environmental cause – to inventing underwater breathing device the Aqua-Lung and winning the 1956 Palme d’Or with Louis Malle for their film The Silent World, few people can claim having led such an intrepid and rich life as Cousteau.
Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) crafts an all-encompassing and utterly engrossing portrait of the man, featuring a wealth of neverbefore-seen archive footage, remastered in 4K for startling clarity. What ultimately emerges is the story of someone who transformed ideas about our relationship with the sea and became an early campaigner for a safe and clean climate. Becoming Cousteau shows that this explorer’s story is more relevant now than ever
Kim Loginotto, Documentary Competition President said:

“The film was a fascinating look at the life of Jacques Cousteau, but more importantly it highlights the most pressing issue of our time, Climate Change and urges us all to take action now. He witnessed the devastation first hand, and this influenced his path to become a champion for the environment. He used his considerable influence, not only with his many followers but World leaders, to urge us as human beings to protect our planet.”

The Grierson Award jury also gave a Special Commendation to BABI YAR. CONTEXT directed by Sergey Loznitsa.

“We want to offer Babi Yar. Context a commendation, an often horrifying account of the Babi Yar executions in the Ukraine in 1941.”

Immersive Art and XR Award
Only Expansion – Duncan Speakman

As sea levels rise and wildfires burn, Only Expansion remixes the sound of the city around you to conjure up a sonic portrait of how your life might change in the future. A beautifully produced guidebook prompts you to explore London’s South Bank; you can choose your own route as customized headphones capture and manipulate the sounds that surround you. Field recordings of climate collapse bleed into this environment – you might hear your city as it sinks beneath waves or is battered by desert winds. A powerful and impressionistic reflection on what it means to live on a planet in crisis, Only Expansion connects the here to the elsewhere, letting you experience our troubled environment through sound.

Felix Barrett, Immersive Art and XR Competition President said:

“This is the first year that the LFF Expanded is giving an award. When we were thinking about a film festival, giving an award for immersion, we’ve chosen a piece that we feel put us inside a film. On a normal grey morning on the Southbank, it transformed the world around us and made it truly cinematic.”

The Immersive Art and XR jury also gave a Special Commendation to VIRTUALLY THERE by Leon Oldstrong.

“We would like to add a special mention to a piece that made us cry, and needs to be seen around the country.”

Short Film Award
Love, Dad – Diana Cam Van Nguyen

Filmmaker Diana Cam Van Nguyen’s heartfelt personal essay exploring her fractured relationship with her father and navigating Vietnamese-Czech culture.

Rose Glass, Short Film Competition President said:

“An irresistible marrying of technical wizardry, emotional precision. It is a moving and exquisitely crafted piece of filmmaking.”

The Short Film Award jury also gave a Special Commendation to both THE BANG STRAWS directed by Michelle Williams Gamaker and PRECIOUS HAIR & BEAUTY directed by John Ogunmuyiwa.

“Two bold and brilliant shorts helmed by London filmmakers which we really loved.”

Audience Award
Costa Brava Lebanon – Mounia Akl

The simmering tension of unresolved disputes contrasts with the electricity of first love in Mounia Akl’s dazzling debut, heralding a striking new cinematic voice.

You can catch up on the LFF Awards Ceremony on BFI YouTube.

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