Mia Bays has been described as a “force of nature” who “really fights for what she believes in” by those with whom she has worked closely. Bays was revealed yesterday as the new director of the BFI FIlm Fund, one of the most influential positions in the UK film industry,
Alison Thompson, co-founder at UK production, finance and sales firm Cornerstone Films, is on the board of female-focused film charity Birds’ Eye View, where Bays is presently director-at-large. “Mia has a fairly unique skillset, having worked as a producer as well as on the distribution/marketing side - she has a good grasp of how things work across the food chain,” said Thompson. “She has enormous energy and a dogged determination to make things happen; she’s popular and a good listener too.
“She’ll be a great fit for the BFI team and I’m hoping she’ll bring a new energy that will promote a diverse slate of films and strengthen the bonds between the creative, cultural and business processes.”
Adrian Wootton, CEO of the British Film Commission and Film London, first met Bays when she worked as head of distribution at UK production company The Film Consortium from 2000. He went on to collaborate extensively with her when she was a creative production executive on the first Film London and BBC Film micro-budget Microwave slate, from 2007 to 2014.
“Mia is not a bureaucrat – that’s an advantage,” said Wootton. “You want someone as the head of that fund who is passionate and is there to defend their choices. [With Bays] you’re going to get somebody who is forthright, but also somebody who really cares.”
Wootton noted Bays’ experience of maximising tight budgets through Microwave as beneficial to running the fund. “Mia was always trying to stretch the envelope to provide the talent with the opportunity – always challenging us to support the talent, to get their vision on-screen,” he said. “It made the films more exciting and better.”
Titles produced through the initial Microwave slate included Eran Creevy’s 2008 crime thriller Shifty, on which Bays was credited as marketing consultant and production executive; and Ben Drew (known as rapper Plan B)’s 2012 Ill Manors starring Riz Ahmed, where Bays was creative executive.
“Mia understands how to place projects in front of audiences, and where a particular film might find its niche,” said Wootton. “That’s incredibly important when you’re making decisions about what to commission or what not to commission.”
US director Stephen Kijak has made two feature documentaries produced by Bays – 2006’s Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, and 2015’s Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of. “Mia is tough, empathetic and extremely loyal – exactly the sort of person you want by your side when going into battle on a film, she really fights for what she believes in,” said Kijak. “She’s a creative producer in every sense, and she loves cinema.”
Kijak recalled his favourite memory to date of working with Bays, from a stop in Oaxaca, Mexico on the press tour for Scott Walker. “Gael García Bernal and lots and lots of mezcal – I doubt either of us can remember much of it!”
Clare Binns, joint managing director at UK distributor and exhibitor Picturehouse, who worked alongside Bays on Sundance London, the UK offshoot of Sundance Film Festival, pointed to Bays’ commitment to creating a more representative industry. “I know she will champion diversity, and new and underrepresented voices,” Binns predicted. As a character, Binns said Bays is “forthright! She tells it like it is – you will always get honesty and straight-talking. No bullshit!”
Binns also recognised Bays as “a great collaborator, a real solutions finder and a lot of fun,” recalling “dancing with her at the close of Sundance London in 2019 – she almost dances as well as me.”
Bays will stay on as a consultant to Birds’ Eye View, and intends to return to the charity in a fuller role after her time at the BFI. “Mia is a force of nature, with a passion and commitment to inclusion that is evident from the portfolio of work she has produced, across production, distribution and exhibition,” said Toki Allison, access project manager at Birds’ Eye View, inclusion project manager at exhibition support project Inclusive Cinema and co-founder at directory Dial F for Freelancer. “She describes herself and Birds’ Eye View as agitators and activists. I would concur with this but go further in saying that Mia brings a compassionate perspective to her work.
“She is devoted to creating spaces for women, non-binary and diverse people to connect, she is inherently open with her knowledge and networks, and is a natural champion for good talent.”
Regarding the direction in which she will take the Fund, Allison said, “Continuing to collaborate with grassroots groups and people with lived experience will be essential, and getting theory embedded into policy and practice, with a result that systemic and culture change follow. It’s a lot of pressure but I have no doubt Mia can handle it.”
Bays takes up her role at the BFI in October 2021.