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Russian Oscar Entry ‘Leviathan’ Takes Top Prize at London Film Fest

It may have received only a screenplay award at Cannes, but Andrei Zvyagintsev’s stinging satirical drama “Leviathan” came out on top at the 58th BFI London Film Festival.

At a lavish awards dinner in Westminster’s Banqueting Hall, the Russian critical favorite was presented with the festival’s sixth annual Best Film prize by this year’s jury president, Oscar-winning producer Jeremy Thomas, who described the vote as a unanimous one. “Its grandeur and themes moved us all in the same way,” he said.

The London award adds fuel to the Sony Picture Classics acquisition’s Oscar campaign. Zvyagintsev’s politically contentious work was unexpectedly selected as Russia’s Best Foreign Language Film submission. Among the films it faces in the foreign Oscar race, incidentally, is last year’s London champ — Polish submission “Ida.”

The Official Competition jury, which also included Variety chief critic Scott Foundas, actor James McAvoy, director Ahmed Abdalla and producer Lorna Tee, gave a special commendation to “Girlhood,” French director Celine Sciamma’s study of a black female teens coming of age in the Parisian outskirts.

The festival’s longest-running award, the Sutherland Trophy for Best First Feature, was presented to another Cannes standout. Ukrainian director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s dialogue-and-subtitle-free “The Tribe,” set entirely within a corrupt high school for the deaf, claimed multiple Critics’ Week awards on the Croisette, and duly added to its laurels here.

Sutherland jury president Luc Roeg described the film as “the most original and powerful of all the contenders,” adding that Slaboshpytskiy has established himself in a single film as “a true auteur.” Jordanian survival tale “Theeb,” set on the eve of the 1916 Arab Revolt, received an honorable mention.

Among the also-rans for the Sutherland Trophy was British director Daniel Wolfe’s “Catch Me Daddy,” a hard-hitting chase drama on the topical theme of religious honor killings. The film was instead recognized with the Best British Newcomer award for lead actress Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, an acting novice who was working as a youth sports coach before being discovered via street casting. Ahmed received the award from jurors James Corden and Finola Dwyer.

The emotional high point of the evening came with the presentation of the Grierson Award for Best Documentary to Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan’s “Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait” — an impressionistic account of the ongoing Syrian Civil War from the perspective of residents and exiles.

An overwhelmed Mohammed accepted the award from Grierson jury president and fellow docmaker Sophie Fiennes, who described the film as “hard to watch, because the fact of war is and should be unbearable.” The film beat a heavyweight roster that included works by Frederick Wiseman, Ulrich Seidl and Sergei Loznitsa, and completed a full house of Cannes premieres on the London winners list.

The evening concluded with the presentation of the British Film Institute Fellowship to veteran British director Stephen Frears, in recognition of a diverse filmography spanning six decades. The helmer, whose last feature “Philomena” was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar earlier this year, was lauded onstage by playwright David Hare and via video by actress Helen Mirren, who praised his facility with writers and actors, respectively.

The London Film Festival concludes on Sunday with the European premiere of David Ayer’s WWII tank drama “Fury,” starring Brad Pitt.

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