Stephen Frears' 'Philomena' Wins Venice Queer Lion Prize as Fest Unveils First Awards


Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
In Competition

Philomena is a narrative of human love and loss that ultimately celebrates life.

"Bethlehem" wins the Venice Days section, while "Class Enemy" takes home the top honor for the Critics' Week sidebar.

ROME – The first awards at the Venice Film Festival were announced Friday, with Stephen FrearsPhilomena winning the Queer Lion award for the best portrayal of a gay character while Bethlehem from Israel’s Yuval Adler won the Venice Days section of the festival, and Class Enemy from Slovenian director Rok Bicek was selected as the best film in the Critics’ Week sidebar.

Additionally, Alexandros AvranasMiss Violence, about a family dealing with the suicide of a young girl, was selected as the Fedeora prize for the best film from the Mediterranean region. Ana Arabia, which tells the story of a small community that includes both Jews and Arabs, was given the Green Drop Award for its attention to environmental issues. The film was directed by Amos Gitai.

The 70-year-old festival will present its official awards Saturday in a gala ceremony followed by Thierry Ragobert’s 3D Amazonia, the festival’s closing film. But the day before the official awards ceremony is the traditional day for the announcement of a host of increasingly prestigious secondary prizes.

Among those are the honors for the autonomous Venice Days and Critics’ Week sections, which this year celebrated their 10th and 28th editions, respectively.

The Venice Days lineup attracted paticular attention this year, but it was Adler’s espionage drama set in Israel that won the main prize. The section also awarded Alienation director Miko Lazarov with the prize for best director and gave a special mention to La Belle Vie from Jean Denizot.

In Critics' Week, Matteo Oleotto’s comedy Zoran, il mionipote scemo (Zoran, My Nephew the Idiot) joined Class Enemy as the main winners. Zoran took home the section's audience award as well as a special mention for actor Giuseppe Battiston. 

Anna Odell from The Reunion (which Odell also directed) was also honored for her acting performance in Critics' Week, while Las Niñas Quispe from Sebastian Sepulveda was given the prize for Best Photography.

Frears’ Philomena, which is based on true events, stars Oscar winner Judi Dench as a woman searching for her long lost son who she discovers is gay. Dench’s character is accompanied on her journey by a snobbish journalist played by Steve Coogan.

Of Friday’s prize winners, Philomena, Miss Violence and Ana Arabia were all part of the official selection and so are eligible to be honored in Saturday’s ceremony as well.

The Venice Film Festival, the world's oldest, got underway Aug. 28.

Twitter: @EricJLyman