“The programming team has declared this the year of the strong woman,” said festival director Clare Stewart back in September at the the launch of this year’s BFI London Film Festival. The strength of women was certainly felt at the festival’s awards dinner: three out of four of the award-winning films were directed by women, and Cate Blanchett, a famously vocal supporter of female-driven films, received a BFI Fellowship.
Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari won top honors, taking home the best film award for “Chevalier.” The dark comedy centers on a group of affluent men aboard a yacht competing to see who is “the best.” The friendly competition — which includes hilarious criteria such as sleep posture and morning boners — quickly escalates into a fierce battle as they struggle to prove their masculinity to one another and themselves.
Pawel Pawlikowski, the jury’s president and director of Oscar winner “Ida,” described the film as a “study of male antagonism seen though the eyes of a brave and original filmmaker.” He continued, “With great formal rigor and irresistible wit, Athena Rachel Tsangari has managed to make a film that is both a hilarious comedy and a deeply disturbing statement on the condition of Western humanity.”
Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom won the Grierson Award for best documentary for “Sherpa.” Peedom’s take on Earth’s highest peak — a mountain many have died trying to conquer — comes from the perspective of Sherpas, the team responsible for getting climbers to the top (and back again).
Peedom told Women and Hollywood that she worked for a decade as a director and camera operator in the Himalayas. “Over the years, I watched Sherpas being left on the cutting room floor on many Everest films, and while they would never say anything, I knew that it hurt them because they were taking a disproportionate share of the risk.” Hence her desire to shine a spotlight on those who have been unacknowledged in the public eye. The jury noted Peedom’s succession in her mission: “We are taken into the lives, homes and families of the Sherpas, who have for too long been overlooked and exploited, dependent for their livelihoods on an increasing number of tourists, who sometimes regard them as little more than owned slaves. We’re left with an appreciation of the sacrifices the Sherpa community have made for over six decades. We applaud this impressive film for giving voice to a previously voiceless community, and we hope it reaches the wide, general audience that it deserves.”
Blanchett accepted her career-achievement honor by giving kudos to some of her biggest influences and inspirations, including Bette Davis, Gena Rowlands, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson and Miss Piggy. She also mentioned Lucille Ball, who she’ll play in an upcoming authorized biopic. Blanchett shared that when she was cast as a twentysomething in “Elizabeth” back in 1997 and the film (and Blanchett) became a hit, her husband Andrew Upton teased that as a woman in the industry, she had only a five-year window to make her mark. “Fuck you, darling,” she said from the stage: “I’m still here.”