BIFAs Suggest U.K. Film Industry Is Healthy, but Producers Face Challenges

Kudos show suggests U.K. film industry is healthy, but producers face challenges

Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” is leading the field in what looks like a banner year for the British Independent Film Awards, but amid the celebrations, producers are grappling with unprecedented change.

The BIFAs are a bellwether for the U.K. biz. “We see it as a health check on what things are looking like — there is always a lot of talk of trying to build a platform for newer filmmakers and to make the industry more representative of the nation — and what this does is give a snapshot of where are,” BIFA board member Deena Wallace says.

Film4’s head of creative Ollie Madden is impressed by the spread of films this year and the awards’ overall development. “In the past there has been a little bit of a tension between wanting to retain its indie spirit and wanting to be a slick-enough and heavyweight enough awards ceremony to attract the [major] talent,” he says. “They are really getting that balance right now.” Film4 racked up 58 noms, sweeping the helmer, scribe and pic categories. It is crucial to the health of the sector during what the British Film Institute characterizes as a “transformational moment.” In a report on the British indie biz earlier this year it said the traditional model for indie film “is no longer fit for purpose.” Key areas for action it outlined including maximizing the value of rights, growing younger audiences, and launching funds for neophyte film firms and for development.

Breaking new ground is, paradoxically, one way to cut through in a climate of risk aversion, says Ed Guiney, co-founder of Element Pictures, producer of “The Favourite” and “Disobedience,” which have a combined 18 BIFA noms.

“You have to lean into the unique, the different, and the unexplored. That ethos combined with a commitment to talent at the center of it has served us well.” Co-founder Andrew Lowe adds the realities of indie film make an international perspective essential.

“It’s always difficult to make a film; if you are going to go through the pain of that, you want the elements together to get it out to as big a market as possible internationally rather than just doing it for a domestic audience,” he says. “That’s not sustainable anymore.” Bringing through a new generation of thoroughbreds is a challenge. The wider issues facing the business are exacerbated for debut filmmakers. There are notable exceptions, such as Matt Palmer’s “Calibre,” which has three BIFA noms.

Producer Al Clark says the battle to get features with first-time directors becomes harder still for a film such as “Calibre.” “This was genre, so gets caught between folks saying, ‘it’s genre, therefore the market should pay for it,’ meaning you should go out and presell it, but not being able to do that because it’s a debut director,” he says.

Ultimately, Netflix picked it up as an original. After winning the best British film prize at the Edinburgh Film Festival, “Calibre” launched globally on the platform, which remains both disruptor-in-chief and a potential savior for indie films. Clark says the film’s team had to have a “big conversation” about how they wanted it to be seen. “We came to the conclusion we’d rather millions of people watch it than a country-by-country theatrical release, if we were lucky. It’s in 135 million homes worldwide.

It’s a leveller.” Film4 is committed to making at least four films from debut directors a year; Michael Pearce’s “Beast,” which has 10 BIFA noms, is a recent example.

“There is a huge opportunity for homegrown, authentic, relevant British films that speak to a young audience to work at the box office, and there has been a problem in terms of not enough of those kind of films being made,” Madden says. He thinks that a sideways look at the British music scene gives reason to be optimistic, with the emergence of grime and local hip-hop as examples of how British-originated artists can authentically connect with an audience.

With the BFI, Film4 and BBC Films, there is support for emerging talent, but producers say the system can feel exclusive.

“There’s a certain etiquette to how the support system for films work in the U.K. — and you’re either in the clique, or you’re not,” says Merlin Merton, a producer on “Butterfly Kisses.” “Films are risky by nature, and unfortunately the U.K. film industry is not built up to take those risks … there are a ton of highly talented creatives all dotted around the U.K. struggling to get something exciting, as opposed to compromised and apologetic, off the ground.” British indie film is clearly adapting to some sobering challenges, but come the BIFAs, champagne will be flowing as the awards celebrate the best the business has to offer.

“You are seeing some of the mini-majors and independent distributors really taking it seriously and making sure they support their talent, because it’s a key date in the awards calendar now,” Madden says.

Photo: The team behind “Calibre,” which has three BIFA noms, opted for worldwide distribution via Netflix rather than a theatrical release.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Garin Nugroho film "Memories of my

    Indonesia Selects Controversial 'Memories' as Oscar Contender

    “Memories of my Body” directed by Garin Nugroho has been selected to represent Indonesia at the Academy Awards in the best foreign-language film category. The announcement was made on Tuesday by actress Christine Hakim representing the Indonesian Film Selection Committee. The fact-based film depicts the story of a young man from a dance troupe that [...]

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • The Moneychanger

    Toronto Film Review: ‘The Moneychanger’

    Uruguayan auteur Federico Veiroj (“The Apostate,” “Belmonte”) broadens his usual intimate dramatic scope to diminishing returns for his fifth feature, “The Moneychanger,” . Adapted from a novella by compatriot Juan Enrique Gruber, the period (mid-1950s to mid-1970s) tale centers on the eponymous character, an amoral currency exchanger, who winds up laundering some of the dirtiest [...]

  • Send Me to the Clouds

    Film Review: ‘Send Me to the Clouds’

    The social and economic pressures felt by China’s “leftover women” — referring to those older than 26 and unmarried — are examined in “Send Me to the Clouds,” a rewarding dramedy about a 30-ish journalist seeking financial reward and sexual fulfillment after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Bold by mainland standards for presenting a positive [...]

  • Jamie Bell Without Remorse

    Jamie Bell Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse' Adaptation (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Bell is in final negotiations to join Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel “Without Remorse.” Stefano Sollima, who most recently helmed “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” is directing from a script by “Sicaro” screenwriter Taylor Sheridan. As previously announced, Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known [...]

  • Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter,

    'Downton Abbey' Movie Sequel? Producers Tease That They Have 'Some Ideas'

    “Downton Abbey” holds the record as the most-nominated international show at the Emmy Awards with 69 nominations and 15 wins — and now, it stands a chance to nab an Oscar. More than three years after the beloved series signed off the air following six critically-acclaimed seasons, “Downton Abbey” is making its big-screen debut. “It [...]

  • Todd Phillips Joaquin Phoenix Joker Movie

    What's Woker Than 'Joker'? Film Critics Made Everything Political at Fall Festivals

    “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” asks Joaquin Phoenix, playing a deranged incel version of the DC supervillain in “Joker,” the unconventional comic book movie that’s sucked up much of the air from the fall festival circuit. Like an aggro caricature of the “involuntary celibates” who troll message boards online, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content