At the first British Independent Film Awards in 1998, among the nominees for Best British Independent Film was lock, reserve and two smoking barrels, the directorial debut of a young Guy Ritchie and a film that propelled him (along with Jason Statham and producer Matthew Vaughn) straight into the big leagues. It was Ritchie’s first brush with movie awards. A few months later, Lock, Stock would earn three BAFTA nominations. Within two years, he had married Madonna.
Almost a quarter of a century later and – with the possible exception of the part marrying Madonna – it’s still what BIFAs do best: give emerging talent a very early career boost (and often crucial) and give them a moment to celebrate their accomplishments in the often difficult world of independent cinema (Lock, Stock it took 15 months to obtain financial support).
On the way to 25e BIFA on Sunday, the film with the most nominations is After Sun, Charlotte Wells’s critically acclaimed Cannes feature debut starring Paul Mescal which, for many, signaled the immediate arrival of a fashionable new voice on the scene. Next on the list of nominees is another first film, blue jeanthis time from Georgia Oakley and a film that generated huge buzz after its premiere in Venice.
“When we announce the nominations and at the ceremony, you see the impact on filmmakers and what it means to them,” notes Deena Wallace, who co-leads BIFAs with Amy Gustin. “Because generally speaking these films have struggled to get made, so it’s very helpful to recognize the hard work and the effort, and it sticks with people, and the impact it can have on their careers is really important.”
For Gustin and Wallace, BIFAs have a double impact on talent. On the softer side, it gives filmmakers and their crews, often together for the first time since packing, a (sometimes boozy) night in early December before awards seasons rolls by at truly grueling speeds to let loose. , go wild on the dance floor and enjoy their newfound success among their (often equally refreshed) peers. On the slightly bigger side, which actually makes a difference is how having a BIFA win or even just a nomination can boost the next step in their ascent and turn that crucial next project green.
First created by Elliot Grove and Suzanne Ballantyne of London’s Raindance Film Festival (Gustin and Wallace took the reins in 2015), BIFAs now feature a list of winners and nominees that resembles a who’s who of top UK talent . Alongside Richie, the likes of Paul Greengrass, Steve McQueen, Asif Kapadia, Gurinder Chadha, Lynne Ramsay, Shane Meadows, Kevin Macdonald, Edgar Wright, Andrea Arnold and Martin McDonagh are just a few of the many directors to have been quickly greeted. In front of the cameras, the Breakthrough Performance category has included – almost exclusively for their feature debuts – Letitia Wright, Jamie Bell, John Boyega, Ben Whishaw, Jessie Buckley, Jodie Whittaker, Rupert Friend, Dev Patel, George McKay and Gugu Mbatha- Raw. And many of them have regularly returned to where it all began for them.
“Because (a) BIFA is often the first recognition talent gets, there’s a real warmth towards it,” says Gustin, noting that they can often persuade big names who have gone on to Hollywood fame to come back. , speak passionately about independent film and act as an “encouraging voice” for the next generation.
This year, they’re hoping to welcome Marvel’s Letitia Wright, who was nominated for Breakthrough Performance in 2016 for Urban anthems and now nominated for Best Joint Performance alongside Tamara Lawrance for The Silent Twins. Another great entrant hopeful is Florence Pugh, who in 2017 broke the mold by completely bypassing breakthrough performances for her debut in Lady Macbeth and jumped straight to Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film category, which she won. This time, having since become arguably the most requested star, she’s nominated for Best Lead Performance for Sebastián Lelio’s Netflix period drama. Wonder.
Best Main Performance and Best Joint Performance are new categories for the BIFAs, which revealed earlier this year that they will become gender neutral.
“I think for us, we just felt that the current categories don’t necessarily represent the types of movies and stories that we go through,” Gustin notes. “Historically, you had a female lead and a male lead, as well as male and female supporting roles, but that’s not how movies are built anymore. Now you will often have three female roles in a movie. So why do you choose one? »
Taking a closer look at the more traditional and perhaps outdated performance categories is something that has been widely discussed in the industry, but BIFA – thanks to its much more nimble structure than other awards bodies – has been able to put changes in place. in action without too much fuss.
“Because we’re smaller and more nimble, we can make decisions much faster and gather information much faster than other organizations,” Gustin says. “And because we’re considered the kids behind bike sheds, if we make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world.”
For larger organizations – notably on home soil, BAFTA – the stakes are almost certainly higher and any false moves will likely result, as we’ve seen over the years, in outrage, angry headlines and hashtags. unfortunate. Even when the British Academy sought to address diversity issues in 2019 with a sweeping overhaul of its voting system (an overhaul that adopted much of BIFA’s committee-led approach), it still did faced backlash in parts of the right-wing press. on perceived political correctness.
“People expect us to do things differently, they expect us to meet the trend, find a problem, deal with it, and find an agile solution,” Gustin says. “And we like that position for us, because we can better meet the needs of the industry we represent and work harder for them.”
The BIFAs have gone against the grain before, perhaps most notably in 2017 when they became the first UK film awards to introduce a better casting category, as had been widely called for. BAFTA followed suit in 2020.
“For the other bodies, I think it’s helpful to have us a testbed to iron out the issues – we’re the guinea pigs!” said Wallace. “I think we’ve always been that pioneer.”
Initiators or not, at Sunday night’s ceremony, one of the most important things, besides giving the independent film industry an extremely important boost during a difficult time, of course, will be that attendees – winners or losers – having fun, hanging out with other filmmakers and maybe even spending a few moments with an idol, maybe even throwing shapes.
As Wallace notes, “People stick around, and some scenes…there was some really amazing dancing.”
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British Independent Film Awards: 25 Years Of Being ‘Trends’, ‘Guinea Pigs’ And Giving Top Honors To Florence Pugh, Letitia Wright (And More) – Deadline