The BFI London Film Festival announced its prize-winners tonight at a dinner ceremony in Banqueting House, Whitehall, a neo-classical architectural gem that was the site of the 1649 execution of Charles I, the art-loving British king who commissioned the magnificent Rubens paintings adorning the ceilings before losing his head on a scaffold out front.
With a new award designed (best described as a hunk of stone with a star carved into it) at the behest of new festival director Clare Stewart, who is keen to push the prominence of London’s prize-giving, this year’s Official Competition Best Film Award went to Jacques Audiard’s “Rust And Bone.” It’s the fourth year the LFF has had a Best Film Award, and the second that Audiard has won it, following “A Prophet” in 2009. Audiard sent his “Rust And Bone” star Matthias Schoenaerts to collect his prize.
This year, “Rust And Bone” was on a shortlist of 12 that also included “End Of Watch,” “Ginger And Rosa,” “Midnight’s Children,” and “Seven Psychopaths.” The five-strong jury, headed by David Hare, also commended Pablo Larrain’s “No” and Michel Franco’s Mexican bullying drama “After Lucia.”
The Grierson Award for Best Documentary was awarded to Alex Gibney’s Catholic Church expose “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God,” the Sutherland Award for Best First Feature went to Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts Of The Southern Wild,” and Best British Newcomer was announced as writer-director Sally El Hosaini for her feature debut “My Brother The Devil,” about two Egyptian Muslim brothers growing up in London. All three filmmakers were on hand to collect their awards, with Zeitlin announcing in his acceptance speech that the film he’d watched more than any other between the ages of six and 30 (he just celebrated his 30th in London) was “Beetlejuice,” calling the film’s director Tim Burton – sitting at the head table about 10 feet away from him – “my second dad… it’s an honour to be in the same room with you.”
Judging from Burton’s impassive reaction, he wasn’t quite sure how to take Zeitlin’s praise. His new stop-motion animation “Frankenweenie” opened this year’s LFF, and Burton was on hand to receive one of the two prestigious British Film Institute Fellowships awarded every year, the other going to – you guessed it – long-term partner and mother of their two children, Helena Bonham Carter. Suitably, Burton’s Fellowship kicked the evening off and was presented to him by Sir Christopher Lee, while Bonham Carter, who stars in this year’s Closing Night film, Mike Newell’s “Great Expectations,” closed the evening out.
“It’s such a great honour, personally, because I’m not British,” said Burton. “But I grew up on British films: Hammer films, James Bond, Christopher’s films, ‘Wicker Man’ being a particular favourite of mine… And coming from Los Angeles, where you feel like you’re in a film ‘business,’ one of the things I love about living and working here is that you’re constantly reminded it’s an art form.”
“Tim’s the genius, I’m an actor,” quipped Bonham Carter at the end of the night, receiving her Fellowship from Sir Trevor Nunn, the stage titan who’d also cast her in her very first film, “Lady Jane.” “Thank you BFI for this amazing honour and for making my fellow a Fellow…” She went on to credit the “hundreds of thousands” of talented people she’s worked with over the years, and ended by thanking her late father and her mother, who was in attendance, for preventing her from leaving the business. “I certainly wasn’t good at this at the beginning, or as Trevor said kindly, I lacked skill, and I’ve certainly had my bad reviews over the years but I carried on and I’ve got them to thank for that. My father’s motto, which he actually stole from Churchill, was K.B.O. – Keep buggering on – and I will, Dad…”