By Chairman of the BIFA Board of Directors, Laurence Green.
Like the films it would go on to celebrate, the British Independent Film Awards started life as that slenderest of things: a mere idea. When Elliot Grove and Suzanne Ballantyne decided quite spontaneously to hold a party in late 1998 in order to celebrate what he now calls “the amazing film talent that this dull, damp and dirty island produces”, they could scarcely have believed that the event would find itself so happily cemented in the film calendar twenty years on.
No-one at the ceremony on Sunday needs reminding, of course, that the idea is just the start. That ideas “need landing gear as well as wings”. That hard work, resilience and the goodwill of others are the untold truths of those who labour in the mines of the creative industries. The success of BIFA, as the ceremony was quickly christened, is testament to all three.
Springing from the traps with awards at that inaugural party for Ken Loach, Shane Meadows and Ray Winstone, BIFA has rarely looked back. (When it does so, it is only to light the path for others.) It understands that its deeper mission is not just to celebrate but to inspire others. Not just to have ideas – that, it turns it out, is the easy part – but to make them manifest: against the odds. The BIFA annual programme of talks, screenings and workshops – and not just the merry spike of tonight’s event – is designed to do just that.
In the end, though, the BIFA draws its legitimacy from participation, just as it did at its inception: from film-makers of all classes and, more specifically, from its fair-minded and gimlet-eyed judges. To all those who convene tonight, and to the makers beyond, we salute you and we thank you.
Chairman, British Independent Film Awards.
Why did you get involved with BIFA?
I was asked! I’ve been fortunate enough to both start and, later, to chair two London advertising agencies. I love creative endeavour in all its forms, fervently believe that it has social as well as commercial value…and think us Brits are really rather good at it. I’m also a big believer in ‘sending the elevator down’ and nurturing the talent of tomorrow.
Helping to steer and support the dedicated team at BIFA played into all of that. Plus – much as I like film and admire film-makers, in all their many guises – I’ve never worked in the industry, so can be relied upon not to be partisan in any way!
What’s been the most interesting thing about being on the BIFA board?
I’ve been blown away by the sheer variety of what the team get up to year-round. For all the fun of the show, BIFA is so much more than an Awards body, relentlessly promoting the cause and the craft of independent film-making. One of the advisory board’s primary roles therefore is to act as a ‘critical friend’: making sure that the right attention and resource flows to the right tasks. (Plus, of course, deciding whether to serve pudding on the night or not.)
Why does BIFA matter?
I’m not sure we have enough space here to answer that fully. First of all, I think BIFA is the de facto convenor of a relatively disparate industry and so acts as something of a lightning rod for British film-makers’ collective rather than individual reputations. Secondly, it inspires and equips the next cohort to follow boldly in others’ footsteps. Thirdly, it does the unsung job of addressing what I’d describe as ‘market failure’: agitating for the new and experimental rather than the tried and tested, enlarging our understanding of ‘what good looks like’ along the way. And by doing all of the above, of course, audiences win also. I think it’s actually important that the British cinema-goer sees films like ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and not just the latest Hollywood franchise.
What’s your favourite bit of the BIFA year?
A little at odds with my earlier answer, the Awards show is the obvious organisational peak as well as a night of celebration for others. The team work tirelessly, up to and including the day itself, to make sure that everyone else can just turn up, enjoy the show and take pride in everyone’s achievements. Independent film-making is one of the steepest of creative climbs, art’s Mont Ventoux, and I love that the BIFA’s create a moment for its protagonists to pause and enjoy the view. Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s palpable goodwill in the room on the evening, certainly compared to advertising awards shows and the overwhelming sense at those that “it’s not enough that us dogs win, cats must also lose.”
What do you hope BIFA might achieve in the future?
In some ways, more of the same. By shining a light where others weren’t even looking, BIFA has given wings as well as roots to so many great films and so much homegrown talent. More prosaically, I’d love the BIFA stamp of approval to be a badge that is recognised by ‘everyman’ rather than just fellow villagers: too many of us are still queuing up to buy vanilla, when there are so many other great flavours of film to try.