The Director of the Sundance Film Festival and former Arts Commissioner at Channel 4, Tabitha Jackson will be honoured with the BBC Grierson Trustees’ Award at the 2021 British Documentary Awards.

Presented in association with All3Media and Little Dot Studios, the ceremony will be held on 10th November at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, hosted by TV presenter Patrick Kielty.

Documentary line producer Serena Kennedy, who worked on the Channel 4 series about the impact of the killing of George Floyd Take Your Knee Off My Neck and the first BBC/Apple TV+ co-production Adam Wishart’s 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, has been named the inaugural Grierson Hero of the Year. This new award has been established to celebrate the unsung heroes of documentary filmmaking and is sponsored by The Talent Manager.

Announcing the Trustees’ Award, Chairman of The Grierson Trust, Lorraine Heggessey says: “To be the first woman, first person of colour, first person born outside the US and the first person from the documentary community to be named director of the internationally-renowned Sundance Festival is an extraordinary achievement. Tabitha Jackson is visionary and inspirational in her support of innovative documentary filmmaking. Her position at the helm of Sundance bodes very well for the future of the global documentary industry.”

A vocal supporter of the arts and documentary filmmaking, Tabitha Jackson was named as the Director of the highly-influential Sundance Film Festival at the start of 2020. She is the first woman, person of colour and person born outside the US to become the festival’s Director. From 2013 – 2020, Jackson served as Sundance’s Director of the Documentary Film Programme during which time she championed the cultural power of cinematic non-fiction and tried to support a more expansive set of makers and forms. Previously as Commissioning Editor, Arts at Channel 4, she supported independent and alternative voices and innovative storytelling. She has over 25 years’ experience in arts and documentary filmmaking and served as executive producer on a number of projects for Film4 including Bart Layton’s The Imposter, Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, Clio Barnard’s The Arbor, Sophie Fiennes’ The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days On Earth.

Tabitha Jackson says: “The ‘creative treatment of actuality’ has been my professional passion for nearly 30 years. But at this moment, as we grapple with the increasing complexity of the world and try to find new languages to express it, to be acknowledged in this way by The Grierson Trust, the keepers of the Documentary flame, means more than I can put into words.”

In the new Grierson Hero of the Year category sponsored by The Talent Manager, Serena Kennedy stood out for her impressive work behind the scenes this year on a series of high-profile productions. She was Head of Production/Line Producer on Adam Wishart’s 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room the first BBC/Apple TV+ co production; Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brotherswhich premiered at Sundance this year; and line producer on Channel Four’s fast turnaround series in response to the killing of George Floyd, Take Your Knee Off My Neck, which is nominated for The Rumi Foundation Best Documentary Short at this year’s awards.

Announcing the award, Chairman of The Grierson Trust, Lorraine Heggessey says: “There are many unsung heroes in our business: people who work tirelessly and often save the day but are rarely garnered with awards. Serena’s achievements this year are all the more remarkable given the unprecedented challenges of filming during Covid. Her work in navigating the complex logistics of Adam Wishart’s film, 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room was nothing short of miraculous.

“I’m further delighted that through this award The Grierson Trust is able to highlight the pivotal role that production managers play in film and television. Our industry is waking up to the fact that all too often they are under-valued and unappreciated. Serena is a fantastic example of the wide range of skills and talent that a good production manager deploys at every stage of a production. I hope that through celebrating Serena and her work, we can continue to build on our commitment to bring new talent to this field of work as there is a desperate shortage of people working in production management.”

Serena Kennedy says: “It’s a huge honour to be recognised for the Grierson Hero of the Year award, particularly in a year that has been so challenging for us all. I am very privileged to have worked on such an interesting array of films. Despite working in physical isolation throughout this period I never once felt alone. Through close collaboration with the creative teams, we were able to overcome the seemingly impossible and ultimately deliver films we are all immensely proud of. I have never felt so appreciated.”

In receiving the BBC Grierson Trustees’ Award, Jackson follows in the footsteps of previous Trustees’ Award winners including documentary luminaries Asif Kapadia, Dorothy Byrne, Sir Trevor MacDonald OBE, Alastair Fothergill, Louis Theroux, Sir David Attenborough, John Battsek, Molly Dineen, Nick Fraser, Alex Graham, Kim Longinotto, Kevin MacDonald, Norma Percy, John Pilger and Penny Woolcock.

Jon Creamer

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