LONDON (Reuters) - British director Steve McQueen opened the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday with the heist movie “Widows”, kicking off the 12-day event which organizers said this year prides itself on promoting women filmmakers.
At London’s central Leicester Square, McQueen was joined on the red carpet by cast members Oscar winner Viola Davis, “Black Panther” actor Daniel Kaluuya and “Fast and Furious” regular Michelle Rodriguez.
The thriller, which tells the story of a group of widows planning a heist to pay off a debt left by a crime committed by their dead husbands, is McQueen’s first major feature film since 2013’s Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave”.
Adapted from an 1980s television series by British crime writer Lynda La Plante, the Chicago-set movie touches on gender, race, politics and crime.
“It would have been disingenuous to not address all those issues because it’s coursing through every fiber of American culture so it should be a part of our story telling,” Davis told Reuters.
Davis, who is black, said she felt very excited when she read the script, adding: “It becomes a no-brainer ... I always say if I turned this role down it probably would have gone to a Caucasian actress.”
The movie features a strong female cast and other Hollywood names such as Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell. McQueen described it as a “rollercoaster ride through our environment”.
“People are saying about this picture, ‘Oh great, they’re making movies with female leads’. In the 30s, 40s and 50s, they used to do it all the time,” he said. “They were stars who were icons. Why aren’t they doing it anymore? I don’t know.”
Though smaller than its peers in Cannes and Venice, the BFI London Film Festival attracts its own share of glamour with many celebrities promoting their movies.
This year’s event includes the world premieres of World War One film “They Shall Not Grow Old” by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson and “Stan & Ollie” about the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.
“The Favourite”, starring “The Crown” actress Olivia Colman and Oscar winners Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, also features, as does Keira Knightley’s latest period drama “Colette”.
Organizers said the spotlight would also shine on women filmmakers.
“This year (we’re) really proud of the fact that 38 percent of the films in the festival are from female directors or female co-directors,” festival artistic director Tricia Tuttle said. “It’s been really important to us to find and champion female filmmakers.”
Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Jayson Mansaray; additional reporting by Sarah Mills; editing by David Stamp