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Joy, Sudabeh Mortezai’s drama tackling the vicious cycle of sex trafficking in modern Europe, has won the top prize at the BFI London Film Festival.
The film — following a young Nigerian woman who works the streets to pay off debts to her exploiter Madame, while supporting her family in Nigeria and hoping for a better life for her young daughter in Vienna — was named best film in the fest’s official competition on Saturday.
“Joy is a provocative and unique film offering a devastating portrait of human resilience in the most inhuman of environments,” said jury head and Room director Lenny Abrahamson. “A raw, fresh view on sex trafficking with a sharp feminist perspective sewn in throughout — director Sudabeh Mortezai successfully immerses us in the women’s lives with her documentarist approach exploring the traps of abuse and extortion without ever becoming exploitative itself.”
The official competition jury — which included Emilia Clarke, Dominic Cooper and Andrea Riseborough — also awarded a special commendation to Birds of Passage, which was directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra.
Elsewhere, Lukas Dhont’s Girl added to its Camera d’Or and Queer Palm wins at Cannes with the Sutherland Award in the first feature competition, while What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire by Roberto Minervini took home the Grierson Award in the documentary competition. Charlie Lyne’s Lasting Marks won the short film award.
Marking a change in tack from previous years, the festival announced the winners before each film was given a secret screening, rather than holding an awards ceremony.
“After much jury deliberation, our wonderful juries have selected four extraordinary films which encourage dialogue and understanding around issues of race, class, gender and sexuality,” said festival artistic director Tricia Tuttle. “I applaud Sudabeh, Lukas, Roberto and Charlie for their boldly distinctive work and hope that our awards can help focus even more attention from U.K. and global audiences on their truly deserving films. For the first time, we’ve also placed audiences at the very heart of the awards celebration, and I’m thrilled to be presenting the winners to packed houses of adventurous filmgoers.”
The London Film Festival is set to draw to a close Sunday with the world premiere of Stan & Ollie.
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