While the London Film Festival only introduced its Official Competition strand in 2009, the giving of awards to notable films has, in fact, formed part of its DNA since its second edition – all the way back in 1958.
That year saw the introduction of the Sutherland Award, named in honour of BFI patron George Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, fifth Duke of Sutherland, and presented to the maker of the most original first or second feature introduced at the National Film Theatre during the previous year. This was the case until 1997, when the criteria changed to include titles screening only during the festival itself.
In the 60 years since 1958, the festival’s awards have celebrated the very best in world cinema, acting as a reliable mark of quality for audiences and, in recent years, helping to raise the profile of the festival on the international stage.
In keeping with the fact that the LFF had originally been conceived as a ‘festival of festivals’, dedicated to showing the best titles from other international events including Cannes, Venice and Berlin, early award winners came from the four corners of the globe.
The recipient of the inaugural Sutherland Award was Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, and the following year it went to The World of Apu by Indian director Satyajit Ray. Almost four decades later, in 1996, the festival established the Satyajit Ray Award, honouring a first time feature director whose work demonstrated artistry, compassion and humanity. It was awarded to 13 filmmakers between 1996 and 2008, including Nicole Kassell for The Woodsman (2004) and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck for The Lives of Others (2006).
In 1980, Peter Greenaway’s The Falls became the first British winner of the Sutherland Award, sharing the prize with Chinese director Xie Jin’s Two Stage Sisters. British filmmakers have gone on to win the award a further six times, including Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, 1999), Asif Kapadia (The Warrior, 2001), Andrea Arnold (Red Road, 2006) and, most recently, Clio Barnard with The Arbor in 2010.
In 1972, the festival introduced the Grierson Award for the best feature-length documentary playing in the festival. Presented in association with the Grierson Trust, it’s named after pioneering Scottish documentarian John Grierson (Drifters, Night Mail), with past recipients including Lauren Greenfield (Thin, 2006), Werner Herzog (Into the Abyss, 2011) and Alex Gibney (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, 2012).
The past decade has seen huge change in the London Film Festival’s approach to the giving of awards, in line with its remit of recognising and championing inventive and distinctive filmmaking from around the world. In 2009 it established an official competition for Best Film and Best First Feature (adding Best Short Film in 2015), with winners picked by juries of individuals across the industry spectrum.
Recent jurors have included filmmakers, actors and critics, including John Akomfrah, Andrea Arnold, Eric Bana, Jarvis Cocker, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Scott Foundas, Anjelica Huston, Radu Jude, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Abi Morgan, Pawel Pawlikowski, Charlotte Rampling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nansun Shi, Lorna Tee, Pablo Trapero, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Christine Vachon, Gillian Wearing and Edgar Wright.
In 2012, incoming festival director Clare Stewart further honed LFF’s awards offering by creating official competition strands to group the competing titles in each category; previously, they had been scattered through the programme. “Even though competitive sections is actually a very old-fashioned festival structure, I felt it had come back around in the age of social media, because people want to be involved in a conversation about what’s going to win,” Stewart told Screen International in 2017. “It also gave significant profile to some of the more challenging and international films that may not otherwise break out.”
Indeed, a London Film Festival award can help a film to reach a wider audience and the attention of other awards bodies. Following Athina Rachel Tsangari’s LFF Best Film win for Chevalier in 2015 the film was subsequently picked up for UK distribution, while Kelly Reichardt’s win for Certain Women in 2016 led to a retrospective and symposium for her work at BFI Southbank.
Credit: John Phillips
The inaugural London Film Festival Best Film award was given to French filmmaker Jacques Audiard for A Prophet, which went on to win the foreign language BAFTA and nine César awards. Audiard won LFF Best Film again in 2012, for Rust and Bone, which went on to win four Cesars and a host of best actress nominations for star Marion Cotillard.
Similarly, in 2014, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev won Best Film for Leviathan — his first of two LFF Best Film Awards, the second being for Loveless in 2017 — which went on to win the Golden Globe for best foreign language film and was nominated for both a best foreign language Oscar and BAFTA.
Credit: Tim Whitby
Yet, as with the whole of the LFF’s programming ethos, the festival’s approach to populating its competition strands is, firmly and primarily, about enhancing the audience experience. Interim artistic director Tricia Tuttle, who is this year heading the LFF while Clare Stewart takes a sabbatical, acknowledges that as the competition films “represent the best in international cinema”, they act as a “mark of quality for audiences. It’s an access point for audiences who want to be adventurous in their selections, but maybe don’t know where to start.”
For Tuttle and her team of programmers, many of whom are experts in national or regional cinema, the six-month process to whittle down the festival line-up, is a litany of “different decision-making filters and factors”. She says one of the key factors that underpins their decision-making in competitive selections is that they “feel varied and fresh as you go from film to film. We want them to have a good gender balance, to have a good geographical spread, to present different formal approaches to cinema.”
Indeed, in a year when accusations of gender bias have once again hit festivals across the globe, particularly in respect of the films in competition, the LFF has bucked the trend. Five out of the ten films in Official Competition are directed by women – including Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro and Sudabeh Mortezi’s Joy – while six out of the ten works in contention for Best First Feature have female directors, such as Cathy Yan’s Dead Pigs, Isabella Eklof’s Holiday and Soudade Kaadan’s The Day I Lost My Shadow.
“It’s not deliberate, in the sense that we don’t have quotas,” says Tuttle of this diversity. “But it is deliberate in the sense that, every time we make a curatorial decision, we talk about who is making the film, whose voice is being heard, how well represented these voices are. It’s about texture.”
And, as this year’s LFF prepares to get under way, Tuttle believes that, in looking to the future, festivals need to take more of a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion in their programming and, particularly, competition selections. “Audiences want to see themselves represented on screen, and they want to recognise in cinema the world they live in,” she says.
“Festivals are cultural decision makers, and it’s really important for us to think about different voices. If festivals don’t do it, who’s going to lead the charge?”
The Sutherland Award
From 1958, the Sutherland Award was awarded to “the maker of the most original and imaginative [first or second feature] film introduced at the National Film Theatre during the year”.
1958: Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
1959: The World of Apu (Satyajit Ray)
1960: L’avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni)
1961: Il posto (Ermanno Olmi)
1962: Paris nous appartient (Jacques Rivette)
1963: Muriel (Alain Resnais)
1964: Hamlet (Grigori Kozintsev)
1965: Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
1966: The Man Who Had His Hair Cut Short (André Delvaux)
1967: Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi)
1968: The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet)
1969: L’Amour fou (Jacques Rivette)
1970: The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci)
1971: Four Nights of a Dreamer (Robert Bresson)
1972: The Hour of the Furnaces (Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas)
1973: Pirosmani (Giorgi Shengelaia)
1974: Martha (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
1975: The Travelling Players (Theodoros Angelopoulos)
1976: In the Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima)
1977: Hitler: A Film from Germany (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg)
1978: The Scenic Route (Mark Rappaport)
1979: The Herd (Zeki Ökten)
1980: The Falls (Peter Greenaway) and Two Stage Sisters (Xie Jin)
1981: No Mercy, No Future (Helma Sanders-Brahms)
1982: Elippathayam (Adoor Gopalakrishnan)
1983: Sans soleil (Chris Marker)
1984: This Is My Country (Lino Brocka)
1985: Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige)
1986: Comrades (Bill Douglas)
1987: The Terrorizers (Edward Yang) and Yeelen (Souleymane Cissé)
1989: Pathfinder (Nils Gaup)
1990: The Fabulous Baker Boys (Steve Kloves)
1991: On the Wire (Elaine Proctor)
1992: Proof (Jocelyn Moorhouse)
1993: Vacas (Julio Medem)
1994: The Scent of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung)
1995: The Silences of the Palace (Moufida Tlatli)
1996: Bob’s Weekend (Jevon O’Neill)
From 1997, the award was given to the best first feature screened during the Festival.
1997: The Life of Jesus (Bruno Dumont)
1998: The Apple (Samira Makhmalbaf)
1999: Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay)
2000: You Can Count on Me (Kenneth Lonergan)
2001: The Warrior (Asif Kapadia)
2002: Carnages (Delphine Gleize)
2003: Osama (Siddiq Barmak)
2004: Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette)
2005: For the Living and the Dead (Kari Paljakka)
2006: Red Road (Andrea Arnold)
2007: Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi)
2008: Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy)
2009: Ajami (Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani)
2010: The Arbor (Clio Barnard)
2011: Las acacias (Pablo Giorgelli)
2012: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
2013: Ilo Ilo (Anthony Chen)
2014: The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy)
2015: The Witch (Robert Eggers)
2016: Raw (Julia Ducournau)
2017: The Wound (John Trengove)
The Grierson Award for Best Documentary – winners since 2005
2005: Workingman’s’ Death (Michael Glawogger)
2006: Thin (Lauren Greenfield)
2007: The Mosquito Problem & Other Stories (Andrey Paonov)
2008: Victoire Terminus (Renaud Barret and Florent De La Tullaye)
2009: Defamation (Yoav Shamir)
2010: Armadillo (Janus Metz)
2011: Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (Werner Herzog)
2012: Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (Alex Gibney)
2013: My Fathers, My Mother and Me (Paul-Julien Robert)
2014: Silver Water, Syria Self-Portrait (Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan)
2015: Sherpa (Jennifer Peedom)
2016: Starless Dreams (Mehrdad Oskouei)
2017: Kingdom of Us (Lucy Cohen)
Best Film – awarded since 2009
2009: A Prophet (Jacques Audiard)
2010: How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky)
2011: We Need to Talk about Kevin (Lynn Ramsay)
2012: Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard)
2013: Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
2014: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
2015: Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari)
2016: Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
2017: Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Best Short Film – awarded since 2015
2015: An Old Dog’s Diary (Shai Heredia and Shumona Goel)
2016: 9 Days – From My Window in Aleppo (Issa Touma, Thomas Vroege and Floor van de Meulen)
2017: The Rabbit Hunt (Patrick Bresnan)