BIFA Founder Elliot Grove Discusses ‘Honouring British Filmmakers’ –
It’s immediately after the nominations for the 2012 Moet British Independent Awards have been announced, and London’s St Martin’s Lane Hotel is abuzz. The remarkable list of films was met with cheers of approval from the gathered throng, and now congratulations are flowing along with the champagne. It’s in the midst of this hubbub that Raindance Festival and BIFA founder Elliot Grove and I sit down to discuss the extraordinary growth of the awards over the last 15 years and, despite the merriment around us, Elliot’s commitment to British independent film rings out clear as a bell.
“I started the Raindance Film Festival 20 years ago simply because I wanted a place for British films in the centre of London,” Elliot says. “I’m Canadian, but I’ve lived here since the mid-1980s. I feel like this is my home now, and I wanted to do what I could for home-grown talent. I found out that some of the British were very snobbish; they didn’t see a known brand or organisation supporting us so they shunned us! That first year, however, we had the only festival screening in the world of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and then from there the festival slowly built up.
“After five years there was a feeling in the industry that we should do something to really honour British filmmakers,” Elliot continues. “At that time there was the Oscars and the BAFTAs, which is a very wonderful event but sort of like a focus group for the Oscars. So we started the BIFAs; that first year it was very small, and it’s just grown through all the years to the point that you see today.”
You have two choices in life as a filmmaker… you either wait to go down the industry route or you go it alone.
Central to this growth is the involvement of myriad industry figures, from high-profile sponsors to the huge number of filmmakers, executives and experts who make up both the advisory committee and jury. “When we started the BIFAs, the first task was to get a jury of repute and note,” reveals Elliot. “And putting together a jury both for Raindance and the BIFAs was always easy, because London is stuffed full of the most incredibly talented, smart and very passionate people.
Indeed, many of those people are celebrating around us and, as he surveys the jubilant scene, Elliot’s pride is palpable – and with good reason. Over the last 15 years, the BIFAs have become a key date in the industry’s calendar, kicking off the international awards season and assuming a global importance that cannot be overstated. “A lot of the films that come through BIFA have used it as a marketing platform,” Elliot explains. “In fact, with many of the films, the distributors in America would run double page ads in the trades the next day with ‘Winner: British Independent Film Awards’ on them. And that would really help the film in America, which in turn would help it back here.”
While the BIFAs may help propel its nominees onto the international stage, it remains at its core a celebration of fiercely independent, fiercely British cinema. And one of the categories very close to Elliot’s heart is the Raindance Award, which celebrates low-budget filmmaking. “The nominations for the Raindance Award are all films made in the Raindance spirit,” he explains, “which is to make a film with a great script, wonderful acting, terrific direction, fantastic performances, great stories—and do it with practically no money! Each of the five nominees are amazing this year, and are all deserving of winning.”
At the mention of low-budget filmmaking our conversation turns, inevitably, to crowd-funding. “If you had asked me two years ago what I thought of crowd-funding I would have told you that I thought it was a waste of time,” Elliot states candidly. “However, it’s all about enablement. You have two choices in life as a filmmaker, especially in Britain; you either wait to go down the industry route or you go it alone. Four years ago Ben Wheatley made Down Terrace with his own resources, and won the Raindance award; now he’s back here with Sightseers. Had he waited for the industry to discover him, he probably would still be an unknown instead of being the hottest new director on the scene.’
But while filmmakers may be taking their futures into their own hands, the industry itself seems to be playing catch-up; take, for example, the recent theatrical domination of Skyfall and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 which resulted in a far smaller choice for audiences. “There’s two bottle necks in the British industry,” states Elliot, as we discuss the current health of British film. “One is development. Americans spend a lot of money on development, they spend a lot of time on the script, and it shows. The other bottleneck is distribution and marketing. Many wonderful films today will struggle to find a release, which is tragic.”
Although Elliot acknowledges things need to change, and understands the importance of digital platforms in bringing films to audiences, he still places great stock in traditional methods of exhibition. “Cinemas will always be important; they are part of the social experience,” Elliot continues “What has really changed is the role of film festivals such as Raindance. We’re trying to become vertically integrated with distribution, online and so on. We’re in the process of securing digital rights for movies that we can show in the UK and Ireland and also Europe and America, through VoD.”
As BIFA looks to the future, its remit remains as it ever has been; to support British independent film, and help it reach a global audience. “British films have always been great in my opinion, but the difference between now and 15 years ago is that we’re starting to get the word out,” he says. “The nominated movies are films that any nation would have been very proud to produce. The fact that they all come from this little country… well, it’s remarkable that these films got made at all.” And, as the champagne corks pop around us, it’s a timely reminder that British films are something worthy of celebration all year round.