Five first-time feature directors, writers, producers

The Carl Foreman Award for special achievement by a British director, writer or producer in a first feature is unique among the BAFTA prizes. All the others are decided in a spasm of year-end voting, at the climax of campaign season, but the Foreman is a more considered affair.

The five nominees and the winner are chosen by a jury that meets throughout the year to sift through films ranging from Hollywood blockbusters to self-financed microbudgeters — 40 this time around.

Because it spans directors, writers and producers, the Foreman is judged according to the contribution made by the individual, not necessarily the overall quality of the given movie. Those are difficult things to separate, of course. It can involve considerable behind-the-scenes research by the jury. Identifying producers to nominate is a particular challenge.

The result is always a mix of the obvious, the quirky and the downright obscure. The rookie talent in the spotlight is often not as young as you might expect. In recent years, average age of the nominees has hovered around 40 — which reveals both how long it can take for talented people to get their breakthrough in British movies and how the best debut work comes from those with greater maturity.

The 2007 list, heavy on fact and light on fiction, reflects a strange year for new British talent. There was a glut of docs up for consideration but remarkably few credible dramas, and a particular shortage of first-time directors.

It’s also notable, and perhaps a matter for concern, that only one of the five films of the Foreman nominees, “Brick Lane,” was directly backed by any of three public financiers — the U.K. Film Council, BBC Films and Film4 — that are supposed to take the lead in developing new British talent.

CHRIS ATKINS
Director-writer, “Taking Liberties”
Chris Atkins, a producer and owner of a post-production boutique in London, made his debut as a writer and director with the agit-doc “Taking Liberties,” a political polemic against the erosion of British freedoms under Tony Blair’s government. Atkins assembles a series of moving, outrageous and ridiculous personal stories into a compelling argument, leavened by wit and skillfully animated history lessons, while managing to avoid the hectoring overstatement of Michael Moore.
Variety said: Nothing. The movie came and went so quickly that it escaped our reviewers.

MIA BAYS
Producer, “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man”
Mia Bays started out as a marketing specialist in foreign sales and is gradually making the transition to producing via her Missing in Action Films (M.I.A., geddit?). She produced Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-winning short “Six Shooter,” but Steven Kijak’s doc about the reclusive, mysterious American singer-songwriter Scott Walker was her first proper feature. Bays worked closely with Kijack on the creative development and financing over several years, and used her sales expertise to steer this unsettling yet persuasive bio to market.
Variety said: “Longtime fans of Walker’s warm, sepulchral baritone, startlingly evocative songwriting and lushly imaginative instrumentation will rejoice at this revealing docu, while pic will garner converts via fest play, limited arthouse exposure and rich ancillary.”

SARAH GAVRON
Director, “Brick Lane”
Sarah Gavron’s filmmaking is all about emotion. In “Brick Lane,” she strips away the politics and the sociology to focus on the inner turmoil of her central character, a Bangladeshi woman adrift in an arranged marriage with a seemingly buffoonish older husband in London’s East End. The woman finds herself drawn toward a secular young Muslim man who himself becomes radicalized in the aftermath of 9/11.
Variety said: “Luscious cinematography may have been intended to be ironically beautiful, given the somewhat scruffy environs … the images generally soften and even romanticize the kind of setting class-conscious Brit films are usually skilled at capturing.”

MATT GREENHALGH
Writer, “Control”
How can a Dutch director and an American producer capture so precisely the spirit of Manchester in the late ’70s and early ’80s, a post-industrial wasteland from which Joy Division emerged as the iconic English rock band of its era? Credit goes to a note-perfect script by Manchester-based scribe Matt Greenhalgh, adapted from the memoir by Deborah Curtis about the life and suicide of her husband, Ian. Bleak, laconic, aggressive, tender and frequently hilarious, Greenhalgh’s dialogue packs exceptional complexity into very few words.
Variety said: “Somber, sad and compelling, Ian Curtis biopic ‘Control,’ about the lead singer of the ’80s post-punk Blighty band Joy Division, is a riveting, visually arresting portrait of a tormented soul.”

ANDREW PIDDINGTON
Director-writer, “The Killing of John Lennon”
Mark Chapman killed John Lennon for the notoriety, so some people believe there’s something fundamentally wrong about making a movie about him, using Chapman’s own words to tell his story. Whatever the moral complexities, veteran TV director Andrew Piddington delivered an extraordinary, disturbing psychodrama in his first feature to gain a theatrical release. The previously unkown American actor Jonas Ball is a revelation in the central role. Film was shot over four years, using the actual locations in Hawaii and New York where key events took place.
Variety said: “Anchored by a fearless, commanding lead perf by newcomer Jonas Ball as deranged assassin Mark David Chapman, ‘The Killing of John Lennon’ is a harrowing, impressionistic, widescreen tour-de-force that unfolds with the propulsive urgency of a scrapbook thrown into a howling wind.”

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