Iranian Director Panah Panahi's ‘Hit the Road' Wins London Film Festival Top Prize

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© Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Hit the Road

Hit the Road, Iranian writer-director Panah Panahi’s first feature, has won the top prize at the BFI London Film Festival.

The movie, which first bowed in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar in Cannes, won the official competition’s best film award, which was selected by a jury led by Mug director Małgorzata Szumowska that also included film critic Jessica Kiang, Emmy-winning casting director Nina Gold (The Crown, Game of Thrones), BAFTA-nominated After Love director Aleem Khan and multi-award winning director Mark Cousins.

“The best film award recognizes inspiring and distinctive filmmaking that captures the essence of cinema,” said Szumowska. “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.”

In The Hollywood Reporter‘s Cannes review, Panahi — the son of acclaimed Iranian auteur Jafar Panahi — was described as a “stirring new voice,” with Hit the Road “channeling the slow-burn, self-reflective realism present in much of the best work of the Iranian New Wave.”

The IWC Schaffhausen filmmaker bursary award — the annual £50,000 ($69,000) grant given in association with the British Film Institute, which this year had Phoebe Waller-Bridge leading the jury — went to Harry Wootliff, the director behind this year’s Venice-bowing drama True Things, starring Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke.

Elsewhere, the Sutherland Award for best first feature went to school bullying drama Playground from Belgian writer/director Laura Wandel, while the Grierson Award for best documentary was won by Liz Garbus’ Becoming Cousteau, chronicling the life and career of Jacques Cousteau. The Sutherland Award jury also gave a special commendation to Laura Samani’s Small Body, and the Grierson jury had a special commendation for Babi Yar. Context, by Sergey Loznitsa.

Other London Film Festival honorees include Duncan Speakman, who won the immersive art and XR award for Only Expansion, and Diana Cam Von Nguyen, who won the short film award for Love, Dad.

Mounia Akl’s drama Costa Brava, Lebanon — starring Nadine Labaki and Saleh Bakri — won the festival’s audience award, which last year had gone to Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, which then ended up winning the Oscar for best international feature.

The 2021 London Film Festival, which opened on Oct. 6 with the world premiere of Western The Harder They Fall, closes on Sunday with Joel Coen’s Shakespeare adaptation The Tragedy of Macbeth.

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