BFI Celebrates the Work of Tilda Swinton

by Sarah Kathryn Cleaver on 18 February 2020

The eclectic actress will be honoured with a BFI Fellowship, as well as a season and exhibition at BFI Southbank with special guests including Wes Anderson, Bong Joon-ho, Sally Potter, Joanna Hogg and Mark Cousins.

The eclectic actress will be honoured with a BFI Fellowship, as well as a season and exhibition at BFI Southbank with special guests including Wes Anderson, Bong Joon-ho, Sally Potter, Joanna Hogg and Mark Cousins.

Tilda Swinton by Katerina Jebb

The multifaceted career of Tilda Swinton will be celebrated by the British film industry in March, as the actress has been chosen to receive this year’s BFI Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding contribution to film culture. To mark the occasion, Swinton has collaborated with the BFI on a curated film season and exhibition. Previous BFI Fellows include actors such as Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert and Ralph Fiennes, and directors Robert Altman, David Cronenberg, Steve McQueen and Swinton’s late collaborator Derek Jarman.

The BFI Southbank’s Tilda Swinton season will run from 1–18 March 2020 and include feature films, shorts and an exciting series of events. Swinton herself will appear in conversation with Mark Kermode on 3 March, and several more times in Q&As with some of her closest collaborators, including Parasite (2019) and Snowpiercer (2013) director Bong Joon-ho on 1 March, and Sally Potter (Orlando, (1992)) on 2 March. The Souvenir (2019) director Joanna Hogg and Swinton will introduce Caprice (1986) on 16 March, and in an event that will undoubtedly be the hot ticket of the season, Wes Anderson joins the actress on stage on 3 March for A Magical Tour of Cinema to discuss their many collaborations and mutual love for cinema.

Swinton will also be taking part in the BFI’s Screen Epiphanies series on 13 March, in which members of the film industry select an influential film to share with an audience. Her choice–Henry Hathaway’s Peter Ibbetson (1935)–plays with Portrait of Ga (Margaret Tait, 1952). The event will be hosted by filmmaker and frequent collaborator Mark Cousins. Fans of the wonderful late writer and critic John Berger, with whom Swinton was great friends, should also try and catch the screening of The Seasons In Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (2016), a film project written, produced and directed by Swinton herself.

The BFI's selection from the Tilda Swinton filmography includes independent and experimental films (Caravaggio (1986), The Garden (1990), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)) alongside Hollywood studio features (Michael Clayton (2007), The Deep End (2001), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)). Accompanying the season is a free exhibit, Tilda Swinton’s Film Equipment, featuring a curated selection of items from the BFI archive and Swinton's personal collection.

Still from Caravaggio (1986)

Swinton began her acting career in theatre in the eighties, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Traverse theatre in Edinburgh, experiences she later regarded as, ‘wonderful to learn very early on what I didn't want to do’. She had decided to give up acting before meeting Derek Jarman, who cast her in her first film, Caravaggio, in 1986. This job would develop into a nine-year collaborative relationship and deep friendship, which lasted until the director's death from HIV/AIDS in 1994.

Swinton is known for shape shifting into a range of unconventional roles in arthouse cinema while seamlessly and simultaneously crossing over into the mainstream, and for her longterm collaborations with directors. She has repeatedly worked with Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson, Luca Guadagnino and Joanna Hogg, who she returned to work with in 2019’s The Souvenir, 33 years after featuring in Hogg’s graduate film Caprice (1986).

She nodded to these relationships in her comment on the BFI honour: ‘Fellowship and BFI are two of my favourite words. And the beginning and end of the reason I live my life in the cinema in the first place. I am very happy and touched by this honour. And I share it entirely with my beloved filmmaking playmates, living and departed.’

Viktor&Rolf A/W 03

Over the years, Swinton has crossed over into other disciplines, appearing in art performances–sleeping in a glass box in the Serpentine in 1995–and becoming something of a fashion icon.

She describes her involvement in fashion in the same terms as her filmmaking collaborations: ‘My relationship with fashion is entirely based on my relationship with various individuals and friends of mine who happen to make the work. I don’t follow fashion. I still have–and am happy to retain–a beginner’s mind.’

Her fashion ventures are as diverse as her acting career. For Autumn/Winter 2003, she made an uncanny appearance in the Viktor&Rolf show, soundtracked by her own voice and accompanied by a fleet of models made up to look just like her. Through Luca Guadagnino's I Am Love (2010), she worked with Raf Simons, who designed the film's costumes while employed as creative director for Jil Sander, and in the same year, she appeared in a short fashion film directed by Ryan McGinley for Pringle of Scotland.

This renewed interest in Swinton's filmography comes at a pertinent time, as this year's Met Costume Institute's spring exhibition subject–About Time: Fashion and Duration–is inspired, in part, by a moment in the 1992 Sally Potter film Orlando, in which the actress' costume skips a century as she rushes through a hedge maze. We can't wait to see what she wears to the BFI gala...

Full listings and bookings for the Tilda Swinton season can be found on the BFI website.

Swinton in 'Orlando' (1992).



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