Film4’s new digital arm will tell stories in ‘parallel places’ with film-makers including Ken Loach.

It is a question that many of us might fear: just how real are your film festival friendships? That was one approach of a new digital social game at SXSW — Would Anyone Miss You? — promoting Film4’s feature documentary Dreams Of A Life.

The street-based game, which can be played in any city the film is released, follows an acclaimed interactive website, Dreams Of Your Life, which led more than 16,000 users into an in-depth online world created with novelist AL Kennedy and photographer Lottie Davies. Both were created by agency Hide&Seek and explored themes of the film, which is about a young woman who lay dead in her flat for three years before her body was discovered. “We brought a new audience to the feature documentary. The game was really being talked about in communities that would never normally be discussing this film,” says Anna Higgs, who became head of the new Film4.0 in September 2011.

“The feature documentary is a project in and of itself, and the digital properties work with the themes of the film but exist in and of themselves. It’s about telling stories in parallel places,” she says.

The plans for Dreams Of A Life were hatched by Film4 senior commissioning editor Katherine Butler and Channel 4 multi-platform commissioning editor Hilary Perkins as Film4’s first cross-platform commission before Film4.0 launched. But these initiatives offer an idea of the types of plans Higgs will work on going forward.

‘Film4.0 will be about helping film-makers innovate around how they tell their stories’

Anna Higgs, Film4.0

The first project Higgs has signed on to support is Ken Loach’s forthcoming documentary The Spirit Of 1945, developed with BFI backing and to be produced by Lisa Marie Russo, Kate Ogborn and Loach’s usual partner Rebecca O’Brien. The amount of Film4 investment is still being determined. “It’s like [Terence Davies’] Of Time And The City but instead of a place, it’s talking about a moment in time in British history… We’re talking about how we can expand the world around that, to feed into that film and also connect out to audiences,” Higgs says.

She adds: “Ken Loach is a film-maker who has a track record. He doesn’t have to look towards innovating, but what’s exciting is that when the subject and the story is right, he’s really open to it. The more we can enhance and extend the story of the film, the better for him as a film-maker.”

There are also early plans for an online search to work with new talents from related disciplines such as digital design and gaming. And Film4.0 could fully back the production of a low-budget project later this year.

Higgs, a graduate of the National Film and Television School and former Screen International Star of Tomorrow, had been an independent producer at Quark Films. She sees the new role as an extension of her work at Quark. “Film4.0 will essentially be about helping film-makers innovate around how they tell their stories,” she says.

Film4.0 has a $1.6m (£1m) commissioning budget every year (part of the larger $23.7m (£15m) annually at Film4) and Higgs can commission projects just as Butler or fellow senior commissioning executive Piers Wenger can. She also works with the Film4 development team and connects with experts in other areas of Film4 when needed (the channel has done groundbreaking digital work with TV shows such as Skins and Misfits).

Higgs says that the projects will always be story and film-maker-led, not platform led. It will never be the case of working with an existing film and adding social media or digital plans. “It’s not about a bolt-on,” she emphasises.

There are new areas to explore. “In my brief it’s inherent that we take some risks and stretch what we can do…The way I talk about what we’re doing is that it’s much more of a treasure map than a road atlas. It is that leading at-the-edge stuff that hasn’t been done before. It’s all about shaping it with the film-maker.”