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BIFAs: the British are voting

Many of this year’s nominated films may be less well known than in previous years, but they lie at the heart of what the BIFAs stand for. Ian Sandwell reports.

As the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs) gears up for its 15th ceremony on December 9, co-directors Tessa Collinson and Johanna von Fischer believe this year’s crop of nominees perfectly represent the event. 

“This feels like much more of a BIFA year, properly BIFA,” says von Fischer, who joined the awards in 2000 and became co-director with Collinson in 2006. “It has been interesting to see the international response [to the nominees] as opposed to the British response. The British response has been much more, ‘This is right’, whereas the international response has been a bit more intrigued, possibly because the films are less well known than in recent years.”

The awards take place at the 1,700-capacity Old Billingsgate, the former fish market in east London, for the second year in a row.

“Our pre-selection committee is diverse with a range of ages and is from different areas of the industry, and that shows in the nominations,” notes Collinson, who has been with BIFA since it was founded by Elliot Grove in 1998.

Rufus Norris’ debut feature Broken, which premiered in Critics’ Week at Cannes, leads the field with nine nominations including for best British independent film, best director and best directorial debut. Peter Strickland’s giallo-inspired Berberian Sound Studio and Ben Wheatley’s black comedy Sightseers follow closely behind with seven nominations apiece.

CEO Danny Perkins of StudioCanal, which leads the distributor pack with 19 nominations for films including Broken and Sightseers, agrees this diversity is great for the awards. “The BIFAs can only be a reflection of how healthy the production industry is in the UK,” says Perkins. “It can be nice as a review of the year to see the different films being made.” 

One of the most intriguing match-ups comes in the best actress category. Newcomer Alice Lowe, the star of Sightseers, is up against the mighty Judi Dench and Meryl Streep for their roles in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Iron Lady, respectively.

At these awards, Lowe has every chance of going home with the prize at the end of the night. After all, Neil Marshall won the best director award for The Descent in 2005 ahead of Fernando Meirelles for The Constant Gardener, and Gareth Edwards picked up the best director prize for Monsters from under the nose of The King’s Speech’s Tom Hooper in 2010. 

There are always films that miss out. The notable absentees this year include Mike Newell’s Great Expectations and James Watkins’ box-office hit The Woman In Black. Both films were eligible under BIFA guidelines stating that films must have been either released in the UK by November 30 this year, or have been shown at a British film festival. The films themselves must qualify as British but the talent need not be.

Significantly, BIFA has a strategy in place for those who may be annoyed at their lack of nominations. 

“When someone is a bit disgruntled about BIFA and their experience, we try and get them on the jury so they can experience that it’s not as simple as they think it is,” says von Fischer. “To hear other people discussing the films and to actually have that argument as to why they think something is more deserving, even though they still vote blind, helps to realise that it’s not a case that we just didn’t like the film.”

There are 90 people across BIFA’s advisory committee and screening group. Every year, 20 or so do not vote due to mitigating factors. So around 70 BIFA members vote for the nominations with the winners then chosen by a 16-person pan-industry independent panel, which changes each year. 

Producer Alison Owen is the chair of this year’s jury, with actors Tom Hiddleston and John Boyega, a former Screen Star of Tomorrow, and writer Adrian Hodges among those on the jury.

“There are always a couple of films that sit just outside the nominations,” explains Collinson. “We have recently introduced a system that cross checks the ‘first past the post vote’ with the alternative ‘order of preference vote’. To date it comes back as it began. So no matter how frustrating that can be for some, we know the votes have spoken.”

BIFA can prove a valuable marketing asset to certain films in contention. “Some of the BIFA films, they don’t necessarily have a marketing budget so there’s not a campaign around them,” says Collinson. “BIFA automatically gives them that mini-marketing campaign.”

Droo Padhiar, the press manager at Peccadillo Pictures who handled the release of double 2011 prize-winner Weekend, believes there is definite boost for those films that are given recognition from BIFA. “The publicity the BIFA awards incited for Weekend generated exposure to the film and its stars. It didn’t affect box-office sales as such due to the ceremony colliding with week four of release, but we saw a significant spike in our DVD pre-order sales and press coverage,” she says. 

And the BIFAs can also provide a boost for producers. “Winning the BIFA for Down Terrace really put the film and Rook Films, as a production company, on the map,” says Claire Jones of Rook Films. “It opened many doors and calmed a lot of nerves when we moved up in budget and ambition. 

“To return with six nominations for Kill List and seven for Sightseers is something we’re incredibly proud of,” she continues. “BIFA’s support is vital in helping raise the profile of independent British film and original homegrown talent like Ben Wheatley.”

Yet even if a film is not nominated, BIFA can still boost its profile. “[The films] are getting seen by some of the top people in the industry so even if they don’t get through, someone might see something they like and want to meet that director, that actor or that writer as a result,” notes von Fischer of the entries stage. 

This all feeds into what Collinson and von Fischer believe the BIFAs are about: the promotion of UK film and talent. 

“It’s been amazing to see how the BIFAs have developed as an event yet still kept the same spirit — independent and caring about the films and supporting the British film industry,” says 

StudioCanal’s Perkins. “That’s all credit to them that they haven’t changed; it’s changed dramatically in terms of scale but the essence is the same.”

This year’s 15th anniversary gives BIFA a chance to acknowledge the people that have helped it to this stage, including the return of actor James Nesbitt as host for the seventh time.

“Each year, it becomes more important to the industry,” says von Fischer. “A lot of these people have given their time and their talent for practically nothing because they believe in BIFA, so we felt it was really important they were part of that celebration.” 

BIFA NOMINATIONS 2012

BEST BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM 

  • Berberian Sound Studio
  • Broken
  • Sightseers
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • The Imposter

BEST DIRECTOR 

  • Bart Layton The Imposter
  • Ben Wheatley Sightseers
  • John Madden The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Peter Strickland Berberian Sound Studio
  • Rufus Norris Broken

THE DOUGLAS HICKOX AWARD FOR BEST DEBUT DIRECTOR

  • Bart Layton The Imposter
  • Ben Drew iLL Manors
  • Rowan Athale Wasteland
  • Rufus Norris Broken
  • Sally El Hosaini My Brother The Devil

BEST SCREENPLAY 

  • Abi Morgan The Iron Lady
  • Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump Sightseers
  • Mark O’Rowe Broken
  • Paul Andrew Williams Song For Marion
  • Peter Strickland Berberian Sound Studio

BEST ACTRESS

  • Alice Lowe Sightseers
  • Andrea Riseborough Shadow Dancer
  • Elle Fanning Ginger & Rosa
  • Judi Dench The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Meryl Streep The Iron Lady 

BEST ACTOR

  • Riz Ahmed iLL Manors
  • Steve Oram Sightseers
  • Terence Stamp Song For Marion
  • Tim Roth Broken
  • Toby Jones Berberian Sound Studio

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Alice Englert Ginger & Rosa
  • Eileen Davies Sightseers
  • Maggie Smith The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  • Olivia Colman Hyde Park On Hudson
  • Vanessa Redgrave Song For Marion

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Billy Connolly Quartet
  • Cillian Murphy Broken
  • Domhnall Gleeson Shadow Dancer
  • Rory Kinnear Broken
  • Tom Wilkinson The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

MOST PROMISING NEWCOMER

  • Elliott Tittensor Spike Island
  • Eloise Laurence Broken
  • James Floyd My Brother The Devil
  • Paul Brannigan The Angels’ Share
  • Zawe Ashton Dreams Of A Life

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • Dreams Of A Life
  • London: The Modern Babylon
  • Marley
  • Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir
  • The Imposter

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