LONDON, ENGLAND (REUTERS) - British director Steve McQueen opened the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday (Oct 10) with the heist movie Widows, kicking off the 12-day event which organisers said this year prides itself on promoting women film-makers .
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 fibre 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."
McQueen described the movie as reminiscent of films from a previous era of cinema.
"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.
Organisers said the spotlight would also shine on women film-makers.
"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."