At the beginning of last night’s annual Focal International Awards, in London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel, the host Lord David Puttnam made an unusual plea: he promised a ‘glittery table prize’ for anyone who could come up with a deft phrase to replace the dreaded moniker ‘footage industry.’ Identity crisis notwithstanding, the evening was a chance to revel in just how critical the archive industry is to producing top-notch factual programming. The BBC was the big winner of the night, its in-house divisions taking four awards for films ranging from the Thirties in Colour to the Great British Sunday and Natural World: Clever Monkeys, which used 100% archive footage to create David Attenborough’s tour of the world of monkeys. The BBC also commissioned Mark Stewart Productions’ Graham Hill – Driven, which won an award for best use of sports footage for its portrait of racing driver Graham Hill.
Siskel Jacobs Productions’ 102 Minutes that Changed America took one of three awards for best use of footage in a factual production, for employing more than 100 sources of amateur and professional footage to tell the 9/11 story, without narration or commentary. Other winners in that category included BBC Bristol’s The Unseen Alistair Cooke and David Leaf Productions’ The Night James Brown Saved Boston.
An award for best use of footage in a feature production went to Hurricane Film’s Of Time and the City in which director Terence Davies uses 80% archive footage to create a love song and a eulogy to his birthplace, Liverpool.
In some cases the category finalists were vastly different types of film projects, such as the Training/Education Production award which pitted UK director Olly Lambert’s intimate portrait Ben: Diary of a Heroin Addict with the ultimately successful Mysteries in the Archives, INA’s ten-part series which looks at historical events and analyzes how the archive footage has been used.
Paul Gardner, head of archive at Darlow Smithson Productions, won the Jane Mercer Researcher of the Year award for his work on the critically-acclaimed Thriller in Manila.
Lord Puttnam noted that the industry was moving from a passive to an active phase, evolving from holding collections to finding ways to make archive accessible to the masses. Leading the way is the CBC/Radio-Canada Digital Archives which took an award for Best Use of Footage on Non-television Platforms for its relaunch of its comprehensive collection of 12,000 online TV and radio clips, which attracts up to 500,000 unique monthly visitors. Roly Keating, in attendance last night, will sit up and take notice as he has similar ambitions for the BBC Archive. As the BBC’s first Director of Archive Content he has what Lord Puttnam described as the most ‘exciting job imaginable.’ Certainly those gathered last night across the range of the ‘footage industry’ would agree.