Wise Words

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Producer and BIFA voter Daniel-Konrad Cooper reviews the year’s best screenplays and what they tell us about the British independent film industry.

A screenplay is a map of written words on a page used by filmmakers to steer a cast and crew through a 3D realisation of its idea. The audience is invited to experience this journey and while interpretation necessarily leads to variation in the route, it is a screenwriter who sets the plan for a film’s story and the detail of its twists and turns.  

The nominees for Best Screenplay this year combine and champion humour, horror, verité, art, intrigue and beauty in varying degrees but are united in their common ability to engage and inspire audiences. These films really couldn’t be much more distinct from one another, and this bears testament to the broad range of voices active in the British independent film sector today.

While the Hollywood Studios can sometimes be accused of serving something of a homogenous cinema experience – a kind of fodder for the masses – the independent screenwriters, and indeed all filmmakers we have at work here, are speaking more directly to their audiences. The diversity of these voices, their characters, their perspectives and tones make our industry rich and valuable not just to us as individual cinemagoers but to our society as a whole.

Our independent films are less about events than about people, their actions and reactions to the circumstances around them. And in turn we as audiences are drawn to these characters’ journeys because we recognise some truth that a screenwriter has successfully woven into them. Through them we live for a while in someone else’s mind and feel their joys and heartaches, weaving these perspectives into our own memories in a process that can be both educational and fun.

Four of this year’s five nominees for Best Screenplay are penned by writer/directors and interestingly the films all explore the worlds of isolated protagonists wrestling their inner and literal demons in far away lands: 

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a stunning odyssey across middle America, the mesmerising journey of Star and her search for something better. Counterwise, Babak Anvari’s Farsi-language screenplay for Under the Shadow crafts 1980s Tehran in an enclosed thriller where Shideh’s simple apartment and whole world are overrun by the horrors and specters of war. Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake presents adversaries of a different nature with Paul Laverty’s script acutely capturing the frustrations of Britain’s disenfranchised out-of-working class.

Billy O’Brien and Chris Hyde’s adaptation of Dan Well’s 2009 novel I Am Not A Serial Killer leads us into the world of John Wayne Cleaver, a troubled teen whose inner demons are superseded real ones in their cult, US-set suspense thriller. Adult Life Skills, penned by writer-director Rachel Tunnard, presents stay-at-home-daughter Anna, stuck and without purpose on the cusp of her 30th birthday in a beautifully considered heart-warming comedy.

These are five distinct and fascinating films from a talent-rich elite of screenwriters. It’s been a pleasure to watch these films and I think all involved with the BIFA’s are hungry for more and to see what each of them will create next.

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