The Douglas Hickox Award

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Debut Director subgroup co-chairs Pippa Cross and Anna Higgs celebrate a fine year for new directing talent.

October is a busy month for the BIFA Debut Director sub-committee as we reach the end of a magnificent glut of film watching and tackle the reality of finalising the nominees. Our congratulations go to all the filmmakers who made it through. The hard work of all the submitting teams made it a nearly impossible feat for BIFA voters to narrow down to just five nominations, all from an initial list of some 60 films.

What is most exciting is realising yet again that ‘talent will out’. This year’s nominations are a wonderfully diverse and extraordinarily promising set of feature film debuts. 

In nomination order, we are delighted to be able to offer to the independent BIFA jury five director debuts of true achievement as well as potential.  The range, as you will see, is huge.  There is no prescriptive route taken by these talents; here we have creativity and technique combined in distinctly different visions that offer fresh and arresting films to audiences.

We wish the nominees our heartiest congratulations.  We have no doubt that they all have ahead of them many more successes, even if this does mean many more mountains to climb.  We can’t wait to see what’s next from them all. 


Adam Smith – Trespass Against Us

Based on a true story, Trespass Against Us follows Chad Cutler, a man looking to find a way to escape the criminal ways of his outlaw family.

Adam Smith has parlayed his extensive track record in TV, documentary and music videos into an accomplished first feature that bursts with visual energy.  Smith steers an experienced and extraordinary cast to deliver pulsing performances to the screen.


Alice Lowe – Prevenge 

Alice Lowe is fast proving that uncompromising ambition and tearing up the rulebook can take you far and fast. Re-inventing the revenge genre in the heavily pregnant shape of Ruth, Prevenge is the mother of all serial killer films.  Enjoying its world premiere at Venice, the film builds on Lowe’s substantial writing and acting career and delivers a darkly satirical look at pregnancy, depression and the way that women are treated.  All in a strong voice that surely has plenty more to say.

As well as directing, Lowe stars in the film as Ruth, a pregnant woman on a killing spree that’s as funny as it is vicious. It’s her misanthropic unborn baby dictating Ruth’s actions, holding society responsible for the absence of a father. Struggling with her conscience, loneliness, and a strange strain of prepartum madness, Ruth must ultimately choose between redemption and destruction at the moment of motherhood.

Babak Anvari – Under the Shadow

Babak Anvari is already basking in some wonderful reviews following the Sundance launch of his brilliantly executed debut, and the film is now the UK’s foreign language entry to the Oscars. Steeped in traditional psychological thriller genre tropes, the film uses this tradition to take a fresh and arresting look at the mother daughter relationship within the domestic and external horrors of war.  This quietly political allegory for female oppression promises to break through.

Peter Middleton & James Spinney – Notes on Blindness 

Notes on Blindness is based on the audio diaries of writer and academic John Hull, who lost his sight in the 1980s. Across three years, he created over 16 hours of material; these recordings would form a unique testimony of loss, rebirth and renewal, excavating the interior world of blindness. Based on these original recordings and his published diaries ‘Touching the Rock’, Notes on Blindness recreates Hull’s fascinating and deeply moving experiences through an immersive hybrid of documentary, dramatic reconstruction and highly sensory cinematic techniques and sound design.

Peter Middleton and James Spinney are no strangers to great reviews after the acclaimed release for their thoughtful and often inspired meditation on blindness, delivered with a genre-bending confidence that has captivated documentary and drama enthusiasts alike.  The film weaves narrative, visual and sound threads together to create an enchanting web of a film that firmly places you in the emotional heart of this moving story.


Rachel Tunnard – Adult Life Skills

Anna is stuck: she’s approaching 30, living in a shed in her mum’s garden and making videos with her thumbs. Her mum wants her to get on with her life and get a haircut that doesn’t put her gender in question; Anna wants her Mum to BACK THE F- OFF. However, when her school friend comes to visit, Anna’s self-imposed isolation becomes impossible to maintain. Soon she is entangled with a troubled eight-year-old boy obsessed with Westerns, and the local estate agent whose awkward interpersonal skills continually undermine his attempts to seduce her.

With Adult Life Skills, Rachel Tunnard has given us a film that is fun from the word go, with a very singular view of the world of Anna as she mourns the loss of her twin.  Writer-director Tunnard digs much so deeper into the inner lives of her disparate characters and brings out some terrific performances from a really rangy cast.  With wit, warmth and a vivid vision for its world, the film defies easy descriptions like ‘quirky’ and instead heralds the feature debut of a confident and distinctive filmmaking voice.

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