The 47th annual British Documentary Awards saw the BBC dominate taking seven of the 14 awards with Stabbed: Britain’s Knife Crime Crisis winning Best Single Documentary – Domestic and Duwayne Brooks taking the Best Presenter gong.
Channel 4’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Dorothy Byrne, was crowned with the Grierson Trustees’ Award.
Hosted by ballroom-blitzing barrister and TV presenter, Robert Rinder, the 2019 awards were presented at an event on the Southbank last night.
Chairman of The Grierson Trust, Lorraine Heggessey said: "These awards bear the name of the man often called the father of the documentary, John Grierson. In the turbulent times we are living through, Grierson’s ethos has never been more relevant. He believed that film had a crucial role to play in countering threats to democracy and highlighting issues that matter to society. And this year we’ve seen many heavyweight themes running through the films entered for these awards. Documentary makers have been getting under the skin of some of the issues that have caused the deep-rooted schism in our society highlighted by the Brexit debate – the impact of austerity, gangs and knife-crime, Grenfell, modern slavery, homelessness and immigration. Our finalists tell these stories with an intimacy that illuminates our common humanity. In our winners you will see many examples of bold, compassionate and vital filmmaking. Congratulations to them all."
The winners in full:
Envy Best Single Documentary – Domestic
WINNER Stabbed: Britain’s Knife Crime Crisis – Rogan Productions in association with On the Corner for BBC One. Director: Toby Trackman
The judges said: "This is a film that was admired for its authenticity and raw openness. The presenter took us on a journey that was at times heart-breaking and harrowing, but was always frank and illuminating about one of the most intractable problems facing the UK today."
The Kit Room Best Single Documentary – International
Storyville – The Trial of Ratko Mladic – Sandpaper Films for BBC Four. Director/Producers: Henry Singer, Rob Miller
The judges said: "This is a superbly crafted documentary. The directors had unfettered access to both the prosecutors and the defence lawyers, who speak openly about their strategies throughout the trial. The film also reveals the unstinting loyalty of the witnesses who had no compunction to lie in order to protect the defendant. Most revealing was the fact these underlings had no problem with Mladic’s genocidal brutality. And then there’s the shocking, potent archive footage reminding us of the absurd and gratuitous cruelty meted out in this dirty war, whose battles are still not over. In addition to telling the stories of victims and witnesses, filmmakers Rob Miller and Henry Singer raise questions about the international tribunal itself and whether it’s possible to achieve justice through a five-year trial if it won’t bring back the dead and the accused refuses to even acknowledge the verdict."
Storyville – Under the Wire – Arrow Media for General theatrical release. Director: Chris Martin
The judges said: "This gripping film fixes its gaze on Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin who repeatedly put herself at risk in order to tell the individual stories behind the statistics of conflict. Assembled from on-the-ground footage and interviews with colleagues, the film builds a portrait of a woman who was compelled to bear witness, at any cost, giving insights into the realities of war reporting, and is a testament to the value – and the price – of great journalism. At the heart of the film is an extraordinary relationship between Colvin, whom a colleague described as ‘more frightening than the war they were reporting on’, and the seemingly unflappable Conroy. The photographer, who survived the bombing that killed Colvin, talks of her as a journalist who was fierce in her ownership and pursuit of a story, but didn’t want to be the story. It is fitting then that this documentary is as much about the innocent Syrian people caught up in the slaughter as it is about the journalists reporting the story."
Getty Images Best Current Affairs Documentary
Iraq: A State of Mind – BBC Arabic for BBC Arabic. Director/Producer: Namak Khoshnaw
The judges said: "We were struck by the intense emotional intimacy of this film. It sensitively captures the psychological scars of a country that has been through three wars in four decades. The film captivated us with its intimate access and the profound testimony it draws from its characters. It powerfully depicts a country struggling with a desperate lack of mental health provision and the injurious effects of stigma in tackling mental health. The judges particularly admired how the filmmaker deals with the effects of mental trauma, from those left unable to walk and talk, through to the role of creative expression as a route to healing. The film is beautifully crafted throughout, a deeply humane piece with moments of real transcendence."
Escape from Dubai: The Mystery of the Missing Princess – BBC TV Current Affairs for BBC Two. Director: Jane McMullen
The judges said: "We were impressed by this telling of Latifah’s quest for autonomy and agency over her life. It was felt that the use of Latifah’s video diary to form the film’s central narrative was particularly strong and intelligently crafted. The filmmakers have created a tense thriller, while at the same time providing a rare glimpse behind the layers of PR spin that help shape the image of Dubai in the public imagination. The revelations from behind this PR wall, of the shocking disposability of women, human rights violations and the international complicity that allow it to occur were striking. This is brilliantly impactful, pacy and gripping filmmaking."
Storm Best Arts or Music Documentary
The Football Club: Artist in Residence – Storyvault Films for Channel 4. Director: Marcus Plowright
The judges said: "This was a powerful, surprising, uplifting film which celebrated the process of creation with heart-warming and moving results. The jury unanimously loved this film: its spirit and insight – an Arts film which pulled off the trick of being clever which felt neither elitist nor distant."
Channel 5 Best Historical Documentary
The Last Survivors – Minnow Films for BBC Two. Director: Arthur Cary
The judges said: "The winning film has an almost sublime quality, subtly capturing the interior lives of its subjects. It’s a film we’ll be watching in ten years time, telling universal truths about the nature of trauma and how history lives deep within us."
A Dangerous Dynasty: House of Assad – 72 Films for BBC Two. Director: The Production Team
The judges said: "Beautifully crafted from extraordinary unseen archive and fascinating interviews, this series paints an epic picture of the Shakespearean family behind one of the worst atrocities of recent times."
Sargent Disc Best Science Documentary
The Parkinson’s Drug Trial: A Miracle Cure? – Passionate Productions for BBC Two. Director/Producer: Jemima Harrison
The judges said: "The winning film stood out for its lean storytelling of a complex subject, its scale and its heart. The film was ‘an examination of the nature of progress’, managing to straddle both the science involved with clarity and the emotional, human dimension with real compassion. "
Discovery Best Natural History Documentary
Drowning in Plastic – Raw for BBC One. Director: Tom Watt-Smith
The judges said: "The winning film combined astonishing visual material with powerful storytelling to shine a light on one of the most pressing issues in the natural world today. Jaw dropping, arresting and urgent."
Nyman Libson Paul Best Entertaining Documentary
Three Identical Strangers – Raw for Channel 4. First shown General theatrical release. Director: Tim Wardle
The judges said: "One of the protagonists in the film describes the story as going "from amazing to incredible." That’s equally true of the film. A brilliant slow revelation of unfolding narrative that, with constant surprises, goes deeper and darker and yet somehow still stays a fun watch. In addition achieving amazing access and being brilliantly crafted, the film is a profound investigation into identity and also into the soul of America at the time."
Bros: After the Screaming Stops – Fullwell 73 for BBC Four. Directors: David Soutar, Joe Pearlman
The judges said: "A beautifully crafted exploration of identity and brotherhood."
Netflix Best Documentary Series
Prison – Spring Films for Channel 4. Director: The Production Team
The judges said: "Filmic, powerful, funny, sensitive, revealing, this series takes one of the most problematic, but also familiar problems of our time, and yet makes it weirdly enjoyable. The director was a brilliant character, invisible off-screen and yet as present as the best presenter. A master of being in the right place at the right time, he was also highly intentional in creating documentaries that were nuanced, humorous and balanced, with a phenomenal soundtrack, skilful editing, distinct, original episodes which still sustained a cohesive series identity.
"But the real triumph of this winning series was its characters. A group of people whose stories we think we know – born without privilege, in some cases addicted to drugs, stuck in a cycle, left behind and unloved in the national consciousness. This series created a nuanced platform for their stories – their hopes, dreams, struggles, successes, and failures. The full humanity of people on both sides of story shone through because of the empathy and thought with which they were filmed.
"It’s often to feel fatigue towards this subject, and yet this winning series made it resonate anew with brilliant urgency and its depiction of people whose lives tell us something vital about Britain today."
Leaving Neverland – Amos Pictures for Channel 4. Director: The Production Team
The judges said: "This series deserves special mention for the breath-taking skill and power of its interviewing, production and editing. A masterclass in story-telling, it took an almost impossibly sensitive and deeply traumatic subject, our attitudes towards which are undergoing profound change. It’s no exaggeration to say the impact of this series has itself contributed to that change – creating an era defining moment that has made us all reappraise our attitude towards and relationship with the legacy of a world-famous cultural figure. Yet it was also restrained, subtle and well edited, navigating a hugely controversial story in a way that retained the integrity of its subjects and showed the importance of trust and empathy in telling stories that easily lend themselves towards sensation."
Channel 4 Best Constructed Documentary Series
First Dates Hotel – Twenty Twenty Television for Channel 4. Director: The Production Team
The judges said: "A beautifully observed series that finds a sensitive way to tackle personal and social issues – from loneliness in old age to alcoholism and depression – but managing to do so with an utterly uplifting and joyful tone approach throughout. An absolute delight. With fantastic casting, nuanced observations and emotional depth this uplifting series is almost the perfect format."
BFI Doc Society Fund Best Cinema Documentary
Minding the Gap – General theatrical release. Director: Bing Liu
The judges said: "The film’s intimate, powerful storytelling and its masterly ebb and flow are to be praised. This is a film that stays with you, with characters you care about, food for thought, and moments of real cinematic beauty. A great achievement, especially for a young director."
Matangi / Maya / M.I.A. – General theatrical release. Director: Steve Loveridge
The judges said: "We loved the rawness and authenticity of this film, and its thought-provoking depiction of creativity in action. An energizing and thoroughly-enjoyable film."
The Rumi Foundation Best Documentary Short
Zion – Bindery Films for Netflix. Director: Floyd Russ
The judges said: "An engrossing, perception- changing portrait of a compelling central character and the redemptive power of comradeship. An exemplar of the short form."
All3Media Best Student Documentary
Ravens – National Film and Television School. Director: Karl Forchhammer
The judges said: "This winning film was an intimate and coherent portrait of love and relationships. It raised some difficult questions of gender politics and leaves some of them unresolved. The filmmaker blends seamlessly into the world he portrays."
Warner Bros. TV Production UK Best Documentary Presenter
DUWAYNE BROOKS for Stabbed: Britain’s Knife Crime Crisis – Production Co: Rogan Productions in association with On the Corner
The judges said: "Duwayne shone a light on a major social problem with an empathy that came from his own traumatic experience. He had an instinctive interviewing skill, listening and responding to what was said. He had the courage to go along with situations that were unfolding fast and the ability to run with the argument, remaining open minded enough to change his views. This film was incredibly personal and deeply affecting."
BBC Grierson Trustees’ Award
The evening also celebrated the work of DocLab, The Grierson Trust’s training and mentoring scheme. Since 2012, DocLab has enabled 93 young people to explore documentary making, offering hands on training, paid work placements and continued mentoring. The scheme goes from strength to strength with alumni now at work across the industry as filmmakers, editors, researchers and directors. Some of this year’s success stories include: Cherish Oteka produced and directed her debut BBC One documentary, Too Gay for God?. Ben McGeorge-Henderson was selected as one of Broadcast’s Hot Shots in recognition of his specialist factual work with Raw – which includes one of tonight’s nominated films, Drowning in Plastic, Preston Hartley was commissioned by COPA90 to make a film about PTSD and Poppy Goodheart is now a producer with a feature-length Storyville documentary with Marble Films.
The scheme is supported by numerous production companies and The Trust is particularly grateful for the support of The Rank Foundation and The Rumi Foundation.
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