Andrew Collins: the state of independents

Hoping that British independent cinema won't be all about The King's Speech this year

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The nominations for this year’s British Independent Film Awards – or “Biffas”, as they are unkindly known – were announced this week. Having just appeared on Radio 4’s Film Programme to discuss them, I can almost recite the nominees off the top of my head. And what exciting nominees, gathered by august committee from a longlist of around 200 eligible films, they are.

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To qualify, a film must be “independently funded” and, of course, British. It’s lucky that The Guard, very much an Irish film – an Irish story written and directed by a London-born Irishman, cast with mostly Irish actors, shot in Ireland, funded by the Irish Film Board – also received some money from the UK Film Council, otherwise it would be locked out of the love-in. Since it’s one of my favourite films of 2011, independent or otherwise, I’m happy to see John Michael McDonagh nominated for direction and screenplay, and Brendan Gleeson for best actor.

The Guard’s three nominations, though, are overshadowed by the seven for Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Shame and Tyrannosaur, six for We Need to Talk about Kevin and Kill List, and five for Submarine. These are fine films, and varied, too. Though most are serious, even grave, and in some cases brutal, Richard Ayoade’s Submarine adds a dose of mordant humour – while The Guard is frankly broad.

As for the snapshot the BIFA lists present of the state of independent British cinema, it speaks of strong emergent talent (Tyrannosaur’s Paddy Considine, Attack The Block’s Joe Cornish, Kill List’s Ben Wheatley), and an inevitable tendency toward lower-budget, personal projects (all of the above, plus the also-nominated likes of Albatross, Weekend and Wild Bill). And – for me – it’s certainly an improvement on the picture painted by last year’s awards, where The King’s Speech swept the board.

I have nothing against The King’s Speech, and its success around the world was a flag-waving triumph for British cinema. And it was certainly independently funded, with input from the UK Film Council, but it’s just an OK film that plays into the hands of those who would reduce our industry down to purveyors of gift-shop heritage by royal appointment.

Anyway, it’s always disappointing when any one film wins all the awards, at any ceremony. (The King’s Speech won five: best film, screenplay, actor, actress and supporting actor, just as Vera Drake and Slumdog Millionaire had dominated in their respective years.)

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In a perfect world, the big awards would be evenly spread among all the nominees. But it’s not a perfect world, as Tyrannosaur, Kill List and We Need to Talk about Kevin rather suggest.