London Film Festival Goes Full Femme, Honors Cate Blanchett

STEFFAN HILL/FOCUS FEATURES
Mulligan (left) and Anne-Marie Duff in LFF opener Suffragette.

A female-led fest team has dubbed 2015 its "year of the strong woman," and unlike some events (Cannes, anyone?), it's not just talk.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

While much of the slowly crescendoing noise around Hollywood's ongoing gender-equality debate has, understandably, been coming from Hollywood itself, across the Atlantic, the Brits have been serving up their own colorful views on the issue.

Never one to shy away from a good swear word, Emma Thompson recently said the situation was worse than ever and, in more Thompson-esque tones, "still completely shit." Carey Mulligan has spoken out against the "sexist film industry," especially with regard to stories about women, while Helen Mirren took a leaf from Thompson's coloring book by stating it was "f—ing outrageous" that 30-something actresses often are considered too old to play the love interests of men in their mid-50s.

At the upcoming BFI London Film Festival, the issue has been earmarked as one of the underlying foundations for the entire 12 days, with organizers officially dubbing 2015 the "year of the strong woman." Raising the curtain with Sarah Gavron's historical feminist drama Suffragette, the event — which lands toward the end of the festival calendar but has become an increasingly important pit stop in awards season buzz-building — sets out its mission from the outset. "[Suffragette] enabled us to take some of the themes that the film amplifies and carry those across the rest of the festival," says fest director Clare Stewart.

Geena Davis

LFF has been able to select an impressive slate of female-led titles, although Stewart is at pains to point out that these were chosen for their merit rather than with any agenda in mind. Cate Blanchett is likely to be the festival favorite, not only bringing two already acclaimed films in Carol (Cannes) and Truth (Toronto), but also receiving the British Film Institute's highest honor, its BFI Fellowship.

Stewart says "around 20 percent" of the festival's lineup comes from female directors — a higher percentage than other major events. Indeed, May's Cannes Film Festival, despite also boasting that it was supporting women filmmak­ers, was marred by a scandal when female festgoers reportedly were barred from gala screenings for "inappropri­ate" footwear.

But as well as offering a platform for women filmmakers, by hosting a symposium with Geena Davis' Institute on Gender in Media — the first time the organization has ventured outside the U.S. — the festival is hoping to become part of the gender-parity conversation.

"We're going to be looking at how film impacts the issues affecting women and children, and how you can empower women and girls through film," says Kate Kinninmont of Women in Film & TV, which is co-hosting the symposium Oct. 8.

While she doesn't expect issues such as pay discrepancies or the number of women actually working in cinema to be solved in "just three hours," Kinninmont, who in 2013 was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to women in the industry, hopes to be part of a groundswell that can eventually have a significant impact.

Says Kinninmont: "For once it's not that we're learning from America. America is learning from what's happening over here."

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Inside London's 5 Most Exclusive Clubs

1. The Groucho Club
45 Dean St.

Now among the elder statesmen of Soho’s party scene, “the Grouch” has been keeping Britain’s media elite — including the likes of Rachel Weisz and Stephen Fry — well watered since 1985. Despite a slew of hipper rivals opening up nearby, this cavernous former Italian restaurant still holds its own.

2. Annabel's
44 Berkeley Square

The legendary grande dame of London’s private joints, 50-year-old Annabel’s isn’t exactly the spot to set up shop with a MacBook Pro and flat white, more a venue to hit the dance floor with heirs, tycoon, models (Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell are fans) and — perhaps — the odd British royal. If she’s there, Queen Elizabeth likes a gin martini, no lemon.

Lady Gaga performed at Annabel’s.

3. Soho House
40 Greek St.

The original Soho House is still at the heart and soul of the British capital, but now boasts seven uber-cool properties across the city. "Every House" members can enjoy them all. The latest addition on Dean Street sits just across from Karl Marx’s former house. It’s unlikely he would have approved.

4. The Arts Club
40 Dover St.

Originally founded by literary types Charles Dickens and Anthony Trollope in the 1860s, this outlandishly beautiful townhouse — recently renovated and just a short skip from The Ritz in the heart of Mayfair — now ranks Kim Cattrall and Ronnie Wood among its eclectic membership, while Anton Corbijn sits on its advisory board.

5. The Hospital Club
24 Endell St.

Among the newer additions to London’s creative set and several blocks from the chaos of Soho, this breezy seven-story hub — backed by Microsoft’s Paul Allen and a favourite late-night spot during Fashion Week — offers a distinctly unstuffy and networking-friendly air (unlike Soho House, you can actually answer your phone inside).

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