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Hit the Road directed by Panah Panahi
Hit the Road directed by Panah Panahi

Panah Panahi’s thrilling debut Hit the Road described as “by turns tender, quirky, even laugh-out-loud funny” won the Best Film Award at the BFI London Film Festival 2021.

“The Best Film award recognizes 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,” commented Malgorzata Szumowska, Official Competition president.

The Audience Award went to Mounia Akl’s Costa Brava, Lebanon, set in a Lebanon of the near future. 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.

Liz Garbus’ “Becoming Cousteau”, the riveting documentary with a fresh take on the life of the inspiring inventor, explorer, environmentalist and filmmaker Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau won the Documentary Competition (Grierson Award).

“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,” commented Kim Longinotto, Documentary Competition president.

Playground, the gripping debut from Belgian writer-director Laura Wandel took the First Feature Competition (Sutherland Award). In the film, Nora (mesmerizing 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.

“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,” commented Isabel Sandoval, First Feature Competition president.

Winners of BFI London Film Festival 2021

Official Competition (Best Film Award)

Hit the Road – Panah Panahi

First Feature Competition (Sutherland Award)

Playground – Laura Wandel

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.”

Documentary Competition (Grierson Award)

Becoming Cousteau – Liz Garbus

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 Competition

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.

This is the first year that 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 South Bank, it transformed the world around us and made it truly cinematic,” – Felix Barrett, Immersive Art and XR Competition president

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 Competition (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.

An irresistible marrying of technical wizardry and emotional precision. It is a moving and exquisitely crafted piece of filmmaking,” – Rose Glass, Short Film Competition president

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.”

Mounia Akl, Audience Award

Costa Brava, Lebanon

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