‘It’s sort of the end of the year Christmas party for the film industry’ BIFA….

20th November 2019

 THIS YEARS CONTENDERS have been REVEALED FOR THE BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS (BIFAS)!

Congrats to Armando Iannucci, his movie ‘The Personal History Of David Copperfield‘ leads with an incredible 11 nominations. Dev Patel is up for the Best Actor gong, while costars Hugh Laurie and Tilda Swinton are up for best supporting roles. 

Animals, For Sama, Wild Rose, The Last Tree, Judy, The Marriage Story and Portrait Of A Lady On Fire join the interesting very diverse bunch of films with new talent at the heart. 

Great to see Jessie Buckley Sally Hawkins, Holliday Grainge, Sam Adewunmi, Bluey Robinson, Elizabeth Debicki and the brillant Chiwetel Ejiofor all nominated

Full list here

We caught up with the Directors of the festival the rather awesome Amy Gustin and Deena Wallace, who gave us a real insight into the preparation and how important is is to support the indie film scene.

AMY AND DEENA BIFA 2019

Max: I met Elliot Grove, who founded the British Independent Film Awards recently. I was surprised at Raindance Fest [seeing] how small the team was. I covered Sundance Fest also this year and it was huge and it really made me realize either you don’t need that many people or you guys are like super heroes. I don’t know, what’s the theory?

Deena: Oh gosh, yeah, we’d quite like a lot more, more people wouldn’t we? We had a similar thing. We spoke to the lady who used to run the Independent Spirits Spirit Awards, which is sort of the equivalent of what we’re doing. And when we told her the budget that we run the entire thing on, she actually laughed at us. She couldn’t believe it that we managed to do it on the money that we do it on. We’re not sure how we do it either, actually. And some years it feels like we only barely just do it.

Max: It shows you that people’s passion and resourcefulness can actually achieve still when you don’t always have the biggest budgets in the world right?

Amy: I think, yes, we are a tiny team. I mean, there’s three of us and we have tiny, tiny, tiny amounts of money. But what we do have is incredible and dedicated voters and industry committee members and partners who basically rally around us and they are all the extra bodies and they do provide loads of stuff free of charge because they believe in what we’re doing at the ceremony and as an organization around. So yeah, it is tiny budgets and tiny team, but actually, when you look at who is involved and who actually helps us it’s hundreds of people, lots of organizations.

Max: I am excited that it’s my first year attending, it’s always better to be late to a party than not to be there at all, that’s what we keep saying to our audience. What’s really interesting is to have you two women, at the helm, I think sometimes people  think, Oh my God, there’s a hundred men in suits and there’s like one or two women, but you guys are actually the people that are putting this all together, and from what I understand, you literally are very hands on.

Deena: Yeah. I mean, you know what it feels like when you’re having a party, and you’re worried that no one’s going to turn up. It would be just be like that. You’ve just been nervous and on edge the whole time that something was going to go wrong. It’s much better to be doing stuff. Also, it gives you an excellent excuse not to wear heels because you’ve got to be running around. Yes, you don’t want to be in like three-inch heels right now.

Max: Sometimes they say women don’t work well together, which I completely disagree with. I think they put us all up against each other and they make us think there’s not enough space for more than one. But there’s two of you, and you’ve been doing this for a few years, successfully. Last year looked incredible, what made you take this on together?

Deena: Well, it was actually two women who were running it before us, Johanna and Tessa had both been involved. Tessa I think had been involved from the first year, Johanna from a couple of years and they ran it together for 14 years, maybe a really long time. It was always a thing that men were doing before us. It works out incredibly well for the two of us because we’ve both got little kids and it effectively kind of works as a job-share. We have sort of overlapping, complimentary sets of skills. So there’s a bunch of stuff that Amy is amazing at that I never want to go anywhere near, and vice versa. Also, because we understand what it’s like, that it’s tough to try and fit a job around having little kids – it sort of works really nicely. I mean, who knows whether it’s, you know, there’s some evidence that shows it depending on how, on what you pitch the salary for a job, you’ll get more male applicants if the salaries pitched higher for the same job it might just be that. You know, because it’s very poorly paid, then it’s more like you’re going to get women doing it because we, you know, are more likely to volunteer, but it suits us.

JOHANNA VON FISCHER AND TESSA COLLINSON

Amy: Like Deena says, we have very different skillsets. So I’d never been involved in an awards show in my life at all, and didn’t have tons of experience in that. Whereas I’d come from kind of cinema and exhibition, events also that kind of stuff. So, it wouldn’t work without the other at all.

Max: I think there has to be a level of passion as well in indie films because people always say to me, especially directors: ‘if we didn’t love this shit, this would be hard, because there would be times when the money wasn’t there. We’d say, why are we doing this?’

Amy: I’m not an artist or a filmmaker, but what I enjoy in my work is facilitating others who are – and what’s really satisfying, particularly this time of year, is seeing how much it means to those filmmakers. That’s always really lovely and that happens from the long list all the way through to, you know, seeing them when they come off stage with a trophy and each of those moments. It means an enormous amount, because as you say, they have not necessarily made these films for the money – they have made them for the love and because they want to tell their stories. So seeing them being rewarded for them is, is really lovely. It’s really special. Um, and yeah, you know, you can’t be an artist. I enjoyed the arts enormously, but I’m never going to be making them, so helping other people do it is, is really great.

Deena: I think it’s really rewarding when you hear stories of past winners who has come back and sort of speak about their experience. We had Naomi Ackie and Joe Cole come in and they were both previous winners.

NAOMI AND JOE BIFA 2019

Max: I find that really interesting  that Naomi said on the back of winning when she was newcomer a few years ago, she ended up getting I think two or three film offers. But also, the thing that I thought was really interesting was that she said the best thing was recognition and Joe agreed that the industry pays a bit more attention.

Amy: Absolutely. And I think that is definitely something that kind of keeps us driving forward. I think it can be a real struggle for those making the films and I was trying to support them. But when you hear those exact things being said, you just go: yes, it is absolutely worth it and it makes an incredible difference to their personal careers and also the teams around them that have made those films.

Max: Joe with Peaky Blinders and Naomi with Star Wars, it’s so cool – and even Olivia Colman and Dame Judi Dench last year, winning the Richard Harris Award, it’s really nice that they all want to come back and continue showing support. It must mean more to you guys as the directors of the award when the actors and film makers want to be there to say thank you?

Deena: Yeah, it is really, it’s a really lovely atmosphere in the room on the night and I’ve worked on the BAFTA film awards, which obviously is an incredible night, but the atmosphere in the room is very different to BIFA. It really feels like it’s like a kind of a big family. I’m usually on the ticket desk in the cold, but you tend to come on the carpet making sure everything’s just doing alright.  Amy will be kind of able to see the red carpet and see the champagne reception during dinner. You basically just see people leaving – screaming and hugging each other the whole way through cause it’s such a lovely opportunity for them to get to see one another and to celebrate it. It does feel like kind of a big family. I mean usually they’ve been through some pretty tough times together.

Max:  The launch was exciting, having Naomi and Joe obviously hosting, and then the actual nominations themselves – So flipping diverse, and I’m so glad…not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with a period drama, there really isn’t, cause I’ve just watched the Portrait of a Lady on Fire and it was good but it’s a reminder that actually British films aren’t just period drama, there’s a mixed bag of stuff in there right?

Amy: Yeah, it’s incredible. I mean, even within the Best British Film category, there’s an enormous range. It’s really nice that the documentary is doing so well, the nominations for For Sama is amazing. And then the Maradona film, of course. So, yeah, it’s, it’s an incredible range. We’re really good at making films in the UK and we’re really good at making all kinds of stuff. Not just, you know, period dramas, so it’s amazing. You know, it’s brilliant that there’s Copperfield and the Portrait of Lady on Fire that isn’t your average Jane Austin film.

Max: I spoke with Mr Ken Loach recently and he said something that really stuck with me. He said that in cinema if there’s not an American accent in it, people don’t think it’s a film. And actually, I sat down and I spoke to all my friends. I was like, guys, can you name me one British film that you’ve watched this year at the cinema, with a full British cast? Nobody could name one. And I thought: Ken knows what he’s talking about.  Then I looked at Netflix and British films is actually a genre! So that in itself reconfirms what Ken is saying. It makes me think even more about how important the BIFAs are.

Amy: Absolutely. I think it does demonstrate the kind of wealth of films and stories that are being created here. And yet, a bunch of them will definitely have American actors in them – a lot of them doing British accents – but they are still incredible films and it isn’t just a genre. It is, it’s something that the industry is incredibly proud of and a lot of films are doing really, really well. It is always tricky when you have something that’s in the same language but a different accent, to differentiate between American and British. Also you’ll get British films that are an entirely American story and cost, but they’re still British. So, the kind of technicalities, I think, the lines can definitely be blurred, which makes it maybe slightly more complicated for audiences to understand what is British and what is not. But fundamentally, yeah, BIFA is there for completely championing films that are incredible and from a British base.

Max: I feel like it’s a really exciting time at the moment for film, because these conversations are taking place, where there’s Martin Scorsese and Ken Loach commenting on the lack of diversity in cinema. Two iconic directors from two different parts of the world are saying the same thing. December it’s going to make this particular award show even more topical and interesting. Do you guys realize there’s going to be this conversation and are you expecting people to take the mic when they’re winning and having their little two bit as well?

Deena: Oh, I kind of hope so. I like it when people that got up there have something to get off their chest. Yeah, I love that, it is an important moment to thank all the people who who’ve been involved in it, lot of names to call but yeah, no, we like it when they’ve got something more to say.

Max:  I know there’s a group of people that have selected the shortlist, can you fill me?

Amy: So we have somewhere of 700 voters who registered with us. And of those 700, about 200 volunteer each year, as we put the nominations process, we split them into little groups. So documentary, debut, director and break them down a bit further and they watch everything. We make sure that everything is seen, which doesn’t necessarily happen in some of the other award shows. People kind of just watch what they want to watch. We tell them everything gets seen, and then, they discuss and they talk about things. Through the process of two or three meetings – and a couple of rounds of voting – we narrow it down to the nominations. So, it’s really careful and really rigorous, cause what we want to do is find what are the best films that have been made this year. And also find the talent with the most potential, and those ones might not necessarily have the most enormous budget, but behind them, they might also not have the most awareness of them even within the industry. We want to make sure everything gets a fair crack. And it takes a while, we have a whole host of incredibly dedicated voters who give up their time to do it for free basically. And then we end up with what we think is the most rigorous possible way of picking out what’s the best each year.

Max:  If you look at the ‘Best British Film’ category, they’re all so very different. How does a person pick between those films?

Deena: Yeah, no, they don’t like doing that, if it was up to the voters, they’d have like 15 nominations in each category. We’ve not got big enough room. You can’t do that. It’s really hard for them to narrow it down.

BIFA 2019

BIFA 2019

Max:  Joe Cole winning the best actor last year – in that category, amongst those bigger names like Steve Coogan, Joaquin Phoenix was great.

Deena: Phoenix, forgot about him. I forgot about him.

Max: It’s really interesting, because I don’t think that would happen anywhere else somebody so new as Joe Cole getting the opportunity with a very small indie film that probably not a lot of people have seen, in comparison to some of those other films in that same category. A part of me hopes that it continues this year, because again, you’ve got front leaders in there like Dave Copperfield, which is huge. So what are you guys thinking? Are there any predictions? You must have like a sweepstake in the office?

Deena: No, it’s really hard to tell. And the way that the winners are decided, it’s kind of, it’s not at all that one group is deciding everything. It’s less likely that you’ll get a sweep. So obviously, there was one a bit of a sweep last year, with The Favourite, which won 10 awards. But, there’s a new talent jury, which decides the wins of those categories and there’s another jury who do the performance and the director or the screenplay winners. And then, voters do the craft categories and Best British Independent Film, The Best International Feature, etc. In theory, it maybe we’ll get a spread, but you never know.

Amy: It’s really hard to predict, because sometimes you’ll get films that have tons of nominations and then kind of walk away with no awards. You just don’t know. And you kind of want everyone to be happy, but that’s not it’s not how it works. I think 80% of the people are not going to win.

Max: The actual awards themselves, I know it’s a small team, but it seems pretty glamorous. Your red carpet last year was ridiculous. Were you surprised by how many people wanted to attend ?

Deena: It doesn’t surprise us, I wouldn’t say it does. I think because there’s so much warmth for the fair and often, it will be the first award ceremony that the talent will have come to. Or maybe the first one they’d been nominated at. There’s such fondness, the fact that they want to come back here when they are big stars, and they absolutely want to come and support the other talent in the room. The project that they’ve worked on. I think because it feels so collaborative as well, they’re not necessarily walking the carpet for them – they’re walking in for the film. And I think when you’re on a tiny budget with tiny film, it needs all the sports it can get. And yeah, we are lucky that there are those requests to come and present and stuff and it is always lovely and it’s also a relief when you do get those names. They absolutely are gonna come and support it cause it isn’t a given, but the genuine kind of warmth for what the festival does and what it’s celebrating. We make sure that those times that they come and support us, we try and keep a balance between, you know, using that to attract as much attention as we can for the films, but also then making the rest of their evening feel as like un-work-like as possible. In some ways, it’s sort of the end of the year Christmas party for the film industry, which I don’t mean at all to do it there, but that’s really important and everyone gets a chance to kind of– it’s like a really big morale boost. But we are trying to paint a balance between those things cause obviously it’s the biggest night of our year and it’s our biggest opportunity to draw attention to all the films and the filmmakers and get more people watching them, which is the point of all of our trouble.

Max: Have you managed to see if it connects in the sense that, I know you guys do this really awesome research that Elliot was telling me about. Have you seen the difference BIFA has made?

Amy: Well, we can certainly see it through kind of the award season, because BIFA happens just at the point when BAFTA voting is starting. So, it definitely has an influence on that. It’s a bit harder for us to track what happens with kind of attendance for these films because quite a lot of the time, these films aren’t available in cinemas. And you kinda can do that for BAFTA maybe because those, you know, there’s that BAFTA window of releases and quite often the films that are nominated are released around then, so they can see what happens to the box office. What we’re trying to do is to make for a bit more of a presence all year round, so that we can do that because we think it’s really important that we take all of the great things and then the Goodwill around BIFA and make it work a bit harder for the films. And sometimes it works perfectly with, you know. Death to Stalin was nominated around then and it really helps with the campaign. But if you happen to be released six months before and you’re on home end then it’s really hard to track whether you’ve made it to people watching it on home end because it’s really hard to get the numbers and if it’s happened kind of way in advance, then obviously those nominations, you can use them when the company comes around. But it’s just harder to measure.

Max: We are trying to support and bring awareness to great indie films, the thing that keeps coming up is they’re not being shown long enough for people to go and enjoy them. So as soon as you get people interested, it’s like: ‘Oh, I looked it, it’s gone.’ And then you talk to the cinema and they’re like, ‘we test ahead at minimum screenings. If there’s not enough of a demand, it gets pulled. And I’m like: ‘Oh my God, art new independent films can’t have money at the motivation of it doing well. It has to be out of support for the culture. Unless somebody buys a stack of cinemas, you’ve got less chance of seeing it. And that’s where, I guess whether we agree or disagree, Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV – just all these different platforms become so very important.

Amy: Absolutely. And you know, kind of one of the things that came out of the research is actually kind of discovery at home is the essence of where things start. And if we can get people watching more of these films at home – over seeing it at the box office – then they’re more likely to be more aware of the other film films when they come out and actually be able to get to them at cinemas before they’ve come off again after the first weekend. So, you know, definitely home end has a vital role in getting more people watching these films in an environment that they are comfortable in and with wrestling less risk because then they hopefully will go and see them in the cinema as well.

Max: The Last Tree, which is a film that is nominated at BIFA, part of the success I would say was because Picturehouse distributed it and marketed it so well. While another beautiful little indie film Thunder Road, which was made by Jim Cummings, didn’t have a big push but it was probably one of the best films of the year. It is really difficult to think about how you grow the awareness of indie films indie music seems to have done it really well, but the film world is on the start of that joureny still it feels.

Amy: It’s extremely difficult. And the thing is that there’s so much repeat watch and you are kind of bombarded with information about what the districts will have to spend on marketing and indie film versus what the studio will have to spend on marketing. It’s just impossible because you as an audience, you’re so bombarded by that so you’re hyper aware of it. Yeah, it’s really hard for anything else to break through. So we feel like we’ve got a job to do to try to sort of try to level the playing field a little bit. I mean, you know, we’re still relatively small, but if we can start to be a kind of constant presence for audiences reminding them that maybe this month they can watch this, maybe not that, how about this instead or maybe that and this maybe go to the cinema twice this month because it’s not just, it’s not just like one or the other.

Max: But one doesn’t have to exclude the other, you can enjoy mainstream and indie.

Deena: Exactly. Yeah, me too. I’ve got to go see Frozen 2 in a couple of weeks with my daughter, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go and sit, you know, I’m not going to see personal history of David Copperfield’s work as well.

BIFA 2019

Max: How would you encourage a lot of the younger generation – who haven’t watched their first independent film at a cinema to go?

Amy: The perception of British independent film I think is a key thing. It’s not kind of kitchen sink drama or just period. There are incredible stories for all sorts of people and it’s kind of helping those films find those audiences, because you will get breakaway films that connect with a particular audience, but they won’t be perceived as like art house or British film. They’ll be perceived as a really great story that’s told in a really relatable way. And so I think by kind of labelling something as British independent isn’t necessarily helpful when it’s an incredible story that doesn’t mean anything to the audience you’re trying to speak to. I think it’s about taking these stories to the audiences in a way that they relate to rather than trying to just sell it on a billboard or sell it on, you know, a trailer in a cinema. These audiences that are seeking out content and film in so many different ways – and it’s about putting that film out there in those areas that they already are in multiple different ways. And I think that’s where we can help, you know, the studio has, or district has a tiny budget – they can’t do everything. But if we can start speaking to them in certain ways and certain places that they’re engaging with, then hopefully that will start to crack that nut.

Max: Yeah, I think it’s brilliant,that’s a really good way of thinking about it.

Deena: I think what Amy says is true, that it’s all about the story. Really. You’ve got to focus on the story and try to find ways in for audiences because of all of the research that you’ve done. That’s kind of what we’ve bought, what audiences have said. Obviously, they listen to recommendations, they read reviews, they take lots of different pieces of information from lots of places, not just one source. It’s not just what Mark Kermode says that goes, but it’s also the story is the thing that they really love. I mean, mostly what Mark says actually goes, but not only that. It’s making sure that we’re, we’re helping to convey those stories to those audiences in a way that means something to them. And so they know it is for them. Cause I agree with you entirely – I mean, I think that many times people feel like they’re not included.

Max: When we covered the British Film Festival this year as an independent, digital creator, I noticed that everybody clamoured and fought to go – everybody in the media, whether you’re mainstream, indie, everyone was fighting to be on that red carpet or in the junket line. But when it was Raindance, this is what really blew my mind -hardly anyone went. I looked at the media line and it was my first year doing it, I was so shocked that none of my peers were there. When I spoke to people about it, they were like, yeah, but this and that, and most of them didn’t know about it or really care. It made me super sad, it’s an opportunity to support and showcase some awesome indie films. Something has to change there’s enough people out here that don’t seem to be a part of it, so there’s an opportunity here. How do you tap them in and get them involved ? It’s really weird. It’s that FOMO thing – you’re all rushing and fighting to be over here where you’re not that invited, at least not always, and then here where they want you, you’re not going.

Amy: And there’s some really, really interesting programming at Raindance. They’ve done an incredible job over the last 25 years or however long it’s been. And they do a really good job of seeking out talent and interesting stories that are often quite different and, to me, are in a unique position that possibly other film festivals maybe don’t have as much space for. And I think they will to try and take kind of a unique slant on their programming as well and go out of their way to make sure that lots of voices are kind of represented across their programs. So, as you say, you know, it’s a shame that there aren’t more people coming to it, but it’s a great program and people should get behind it.

Max: You guys have worked across mainstream and indie, is there a big difference? Perception wise or the environment you work at – aside from the smaller team, budget of course?

Amy: The reality is that you’re responsible for everything. I mean, it’s tough, because you’re responsible for everything. But it means that if we decide that we want to do something a little bit different this year and go for it – You know, we wanted to switch venue or want a different host, we want them to feed people in a different way. We can just kind of do it. We have a board and we have committees who are kind of people embedded in the film industry, and are there to advise us and make sure we don’t go completely off piece. But it’s nice to be able to make the decisions and just kind of get on and do it is quite satisfying, as you know, it’s a very much more agile and leaner organization. It means that we can do things like the unconscious bias training that we started last year. That kind of thing is a lot harder to get through a big organization, whereas we were really passionate about doing it. We thought it was really important and so we just found some cash to do it and got on with it, and it was nice to be able to do that.

Deena: Yes we are responsible for everything, but it also means that we can be passionate about it all as well. And it’s not like, you know, we come to slug away and then people. Like, nah, nah, unless it’s, you know, going for kind of funding or partnerships and and remits change. It doesn’t mean that we can’t change directions, slightly, or we’ve discovered through the kind of research we did last year on a kind of an incredible need for more support for emerging filmmakers. Like, the incredible debuts that could be anything between sort of 45 and 60 kind of debut filmmakers that we’re celebrating every year. And there’s a huge percentage of those that never go on to make another feature. And so we kind of try to find out why and we’ve asked a bunch of people and done the research and these things that are things that would help to make things a bit easier. So we’re like, great, well let’s build a program that will answer those needs and lets try to find partners to get it off the ground. So because we can see a need for something, we can kind of research it, build a program, get partners and check that.

Max: I like that because you’re not sitting there dwelling on the problem. You’re trying to actually get solution because sometimes we all get like, ‘Oh there’s no point, no one cares.’ It’s really good that you actually think, hey, let’s talk to them. I met a filmmaker recently, he was in a LA, his short was a Raindance and I said: ‘It must be easy cause you’re on your second short, right, so you can do more’ and he said, ‘No, it’s harder.’ And I said, ‘why?’ He said, ‘because they ask you how much money did you make on the first one?’ And it’s like, ah, we didn’t really make any money. So it’s like, okay, that’s why you haven’t been able to make a feature yet.

Deena: Also once you get some shorts and then you get maybe your feature under your belt people expect you to know what you’re doing. Often that first picture would have been kind of coupled together with kind of favours and begging, borrowing and stealing stuff. So particularly as producers, there’s a lot of skills that they need to have, sometimes if they’ve kind of vanished after the first feature but are expected to know more, answer all the questions they have to raise even more financing and deliver. Yet they still aren’t quite there yet in their development, there’s not really that much out there for these filmmakers, so that’s kind of why we thought it was really important to better support them, to allow them to be able to kind of reach their full potential.

Max:  Sometimes when you’re indie people think, ‘Oh my God, they’ve all gone a little bit mad.’ disrupting the system. I actually think is a good thing, it’s necessary. You’re literally a few weeks away  for the BIFA’s I believe. How are you preparing for that night?

Deena: Oh man, my main responsibility over the next few weeks is liaising with all of the nominees and the ticket sales and soon as I get to do this brilliant kind of human jigsaw puzzle of all the seating of the 700 people who come for dinner.

Max: So you decide who sits with who?

Deena : That’s really fun, yeah, it really is. I enjoy that very much.

Max: Amy, how are you preparing and do you guys even get a chance to think about dresses and all that sorts of stuff?

Amy: Uh, preparing, I look after more of the production side of things, so making sure we have all the artwork there and dinner and things like that. In terms of outfit, new comfy shoes tends to be a priority. Um, and then we go from there.

The British independent film award ceremony will be held at Old Billingsgate, London December 1 we will be live bringing you all the action.

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