The nominees for the Best Director award this year run the gamut of experience levels, from relative newcomers to national heroes.
At the newer end of the scale we have Babak Anvari (Under the Shadow) and Peter Middleton and James Spinney (Notes on Blindness), who are all also nominated for the Debut Director award. Peter and James have worked together since 2010 and have directed a number of award-winning short films, including the Notes on Blindness short on which the feature is based. Babak has been making short films since 2001 and was BAFTA-nominated for his 2011 short Two & Two.
Ben Wheatley (Free Fire) and Andrea Arnold (American Honey) are more experienced filmmakers with a run of successful titles behind them. Since his debut in 2009, Wheatley has developed a cult following with his dark and funny films and has been BIFA-nominated four times in the past, for Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers. Andrea Arnold has been working in entertainment since the ‘80s and has made a number of highly-acclaimed films. She was BIFA-nominated in 2006 for her debut feature Red Road, and twice in 2009 for writing and directing Fish Tank – she took the Best Director trophy home that night.
Lastly we have Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake), a filmmaker who has been instrumental in the UK film scene for nearly half a century and has influenced society and politics nationally and internationally with his films. Loach also won the first-ever Best Director BIFA for My Name is Joe in 1998. Whilst I, Daniel Blake is the most-nominated film at BIFA this year with seven nominations, Loach also appears in another BIFA category: he is the subject of Louise Osmond’s Best Documentary-nominated film Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach.
Find out more about each of these remarkable directors and their films below.
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ANDREA ARNOLD – AMERICAN HONEY
Arnold’s first two short films, Milk (1998) and Dog (2001) screened in Cannes in the Semaine de la Critique. In 2005 her third short, Wasp, received the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Arnold went on to write and direct two distinctive original features, Red Road (2006) and Fish Tank (2009) both of which received BIFA and BAFTA nominations and wins.
Synopsis: Star, an adolescent girl from a troubled home, runs away with a traveling sales crew who drive across the American Midwest selling subscriptions door to door. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, one of whom is Jake, she soon gets into the group’s lifestyle of hard-partying nights, law-bending days, and young love.
BEN WHEATLEY – FREE FIRE
Ben Wheatley is an Essex-born director known for dark films with a strong dose of black humour. His debut feature, Down Terrace, won the BIFA Raindance award in 2009. Credits include Kill List, Sightseers and High-Rise. Wheatley is known for working with Amy Jump, his wife and writing partner, with whom he shares his 2011 BIFA Best Screenplay nomination for Kill List.
Synopsis: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.
KEN LOACH – I, DANIEL BLAKE
Ken Loach is one of the UK’s most prominent directors. Credits include Kes (1969), Riff-Raff (1991), Sweet Sixteen (2002) and The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006). He has twice received the Palme d’Or at Cannes, been BAFTA-nominated nine times and BIFA-nominated four, as well as winning the Special Jury Prize in 2006.
Synopsis: Daniel Blake, 59, has worked as a joiner most of his life in Newcastle. Now, for the first time ever, following an illness, he needs help from the State. He crosses paths with single mother Katie and her two young children, Daisy and Dylan. Katie’s only chance to escape a one-roomed homeless hostel in London is to accept a flat in a city she doesn’t know, some 300 miles away. Daniel and Katie find themselves in no-man’s land, caught on the barbed-wire of welfare bureaucracy as played out against the rhetoric of ‘striver and skiver’ in modern-day Britain.
PETER MIDDLETON & JAMES SPINNEY – NOTES ON BLINDNESS
Peter and James have been working together for the past six years on a range of fiction, documentary and multimedia projects. During this period they have adapted John Hull’s diary material into a series of award winning short films. The first of these, Rainfall, won the Best Short Documentary Award at Hot Docs 2013. This was followed in 2014 by the Emmy Award-winning short, also entitled Notes on Blindness, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and won Best Documentary at Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival. Notes on Blindness is their first feature.
Synopsis: After losing sight, John Hull knew that if he did not try to understand blindness it would destroy him. In 1983 he began keeping an audio diary, documenting his extraordinary journey into ‘a world beyond sight’.
BABAK ANVARI – UNDER THE SHADOW
Babak Anvari is an award-winning British filmmaker based in London. From a young age he has been involved in the production of many short films and video art pieces that have been screened in different venues and festivals around the world.
Synopsis: As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the 1980s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.