On Monday over lunch, the head of the BFI Film Find, Ben Roberts, proudly boasted to a group of British reviewers about the work the organisation has been doing over the past year. With two British directors up for the Palme d’Or – Mike Leigh for Mr Turner and Ken Loach for Jimmy’s Hall – Roberts laughed that “Mike and Ken” don’t even have to tell him what their films are about to get money. “They’ve put their time in, they deserve it.”
But with such established directors being able to get film after film into contention in Cannes, Roberts acknowledged that the BFI had to “work the hardest on the films that find it harder getting across the line,” referring to films directed by women or coming from ethnic minority communities. Among those he highlighted was Amma Asante’s slave drama Belle.
Listing upcoming British movies with the enthusiasm of a proud father, praising his children’s sporting achievements, Roberts announced upcoming films such as a biopic about the artist David Hockney, which he sees as a companion piece to Leigh’s Mr Turner, as well as films being screened in Cannes, including editor-turned director Andrew Hulme’s Snow in Paradise, part of the Un Certain Regard artistic strand.
But perhaps the film filling the BFI with the most pride was the closing film of the Directors’ Fortnight side-bar, Pride, by Matthew Warchus, which tells the story of the unlikely camaraderie that built up between a group of gay campaigners and striking miners in the 1980s. The BFI see Pride as being “the next Full Monty or Billy Elliot.” So proud are they of pride that they even posed in replica “Pits and perverts” t-shirts – one of the team had worn one at the original demonstrations, thirty years ago.
To give an idea of the scale of the BFI’s work, these were among 34 features backed by the BFI over the past year, with nearly 5 times as many more given help in development. The fund, Roberts says, is about creating new opportunities, with about a third of the film-makers receiving help being first time directors and nearly as many directing for only the second time.