The story of a middle-aged teacher who turns to drink in order to cope with life has won the most prestigious award at this year’s London film festival, although several other highly rated movies were not eligible owing to changes imposed because of Covid-19.
Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, which stars Mads Mikkelsen as a disillusioned teacher who along with a small group of colleagues decides to drink every day, won best film at the UK’s first major film awards since the start of the pandemic.
The award came in an unusual year for the festival, which hosted a hybrid event with the British Film Institute’s online player showing films digitally, while the BFI Southbank in London and cinemas around the country also held some physically distanced screenings.
In addition, Francis Lee’s Ammonite, the Pixar film Soul, and Regina King’s directorial debut, One Night in Miami, were not considered by the judges as they were only available at physical screenings.
The festival director, Tricia Tuttle, said Another Round had a huge audience reaction on social media and was “a perceptive examination of midlife masculinity in crisis”, which was sympathetic but “refreshingly lacking in self-pity”.
It is the latest collaboration between Vinterberg and Mikkelsen, who worked together on The Hunt, the 2012 film about a primary school teacher accused of abusing a child.
Other winners included the Norwegian filmmaker Benjamin Ree, who was awarded best documentary for The Painter and the Thief, his portrayal of a friendship that develops between an artist and the thief who stole several of her paintings.
Best short film went to Tommy Gillard for his comedy Shuttlecock, while the best XR (expanded reality) award was given to the immersive animation To Miss the Ending.
Tuttle said all the winners grapple with “big issues” by using humour and humanity.
The focus on smaller releases at LFF echoed in the UK’s independent cinema sector, which is having to adapt to a world in which the usual barrage of Hollywood films has been stifled because of Covid-19.
Regent Street Cinema, one of the first venues in the UK to show moving images in the 1800s, reopened on 1 October and hosted its first sold-out screening with a showing of Ammonite as part of LFF on Saturday night.
The cinema’s executive commercial director, Billy Watson, said the dearth of Hollywood films had provided it with an opportunity to show more independent films as a way to fill its schedules. “There is programming coming through from the independent sector, because at this time of year people are readying for the award season for next year.”
Another source of content for programmers is “event” cinema that includes non-traditional films, such as the on-screen version of Ian Rickson’s production of Uncle Vanya, which had been showing in the West End at the Harold Pinter theatre before the Covid-19 crisis.
Sophie Doherty, the Regent’s screen content manager, said productions such as Uncle Vanya were crucial for cinemas that were dealing with distributors pulling traditional films from the schedules with little notice because of fears over box office slumps.
She said: “There are films that are sometimes being announced the previous Friday as new films for that upcoming play week but by the end of that very weekend, have been removed from the calendar.”
Doherty added that the volatile nature of distribution meant films that would have huge competition in ordinary times were able to perform better at the box office. She used the example of After We Collided, the young-adult romance film that had very little promotion or buzz before release and has amassed more than £1.1m at the UK box office.
“That’s a perfect example of a film that was able to get some real leverage out of a gap in the market, because studios have stopped providing their mid-level, mid-budget films,” Doherty said. “They’ve dried up that pipeline.”