‘It’s been the craziest moment of my life’: the 2023 British independent film award nominees on risk, romance, and why UK film is on fire

On the seventh level of the One Hundred Shoreditch hotel in east London, a gathering is taking place to honor the individuals who have been nominated for the British independent film awards (Bifas) this year. The preferred style among attendees consists of sharp shoulders, emerging fashion designers, and luxurious materials. These individuals are among the most creative and talented in the world of British cinema, and their attire reflects this.

Is each year as thrilling as this one? Or do these nominees symbolize the beginning of something new, the peak of a fresh trend? The strong box office success of top contenders Scrapper and Rye Lane is promising – both have surpassed $1 million in global earnings – as is the overall atmosphere. “It definitely feels that way,” says Paris Zarcilla, writer and director of the SXSW award-winning horror film Raging Grace, which will be released in the UK on December 29th. “I believe we’re seeing filmmakers finally able to create the exact films they want, without having to anticipate audience preferences.” Zarcilla’s own film, the first British-Filipino feature in UK cinema history, serves as an example of the potential success that can come from this approach.

Last year, Charlotte Wells’s remarkable drama Aftersun dominated the Bifa awards by winning seven out of 16 categories, including best film and best director. However, this year’s competition is more competitive and diverse. The term “British independent film” no longer evokes a singular image of gritty, depressing social commentary. While there is always room for such films – as we are avid fans of British cinema and will never part with our BFI Alan Clarke box sets – the typical Bifa film is now more difficult to define. It can be as unpredictable as the plot of the psychological thriller Femme, as soulfully surreal as the satire on the film industry In Camera, or as emotionally profound as All of Us Strangers, Andrew Haigh’s supernatural drama about relationships starring beloved indie actors Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal.

At the current event, the excitement appears to be evenly distributed among all of these films and others. The romantic comedy set in South London, Rye Lane, is receiving just as much love as it is charming. Attendees cannot stop discussing the issues of consent brought up in Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex or the powerful performances in Mahalia Belo’s upcoming dystopian thriller The End We Start From, featuring Jodie Comer. And according to popular agreement, Abdou Cisse’s cleverly named short film Festival of Slaps is just as dynamic and intense as its title suggests.

Harris Dickinson carrying Lola Campbell over a grassy area between houses

Predicting the ultimate victors has become more challenging than ever, although aren’t they all winners already? This goes beyond the “everyone gets a participation medal” mindset of school cross-country races. Many of the nominees for tonight’s event have already received accolades on the international film festival circuit, such as an Un Certain Regard or a special jury prize. Fortunately, the British Independent Film Awards stands out in yet another area – the design of their trophies. The winners will receive a stylish 1kg trophy made from marbled blue-and-white recycled plastic (in contrast to Bafta’s 3.7kg marble and brass trophy), which is both environmentally friendly and easy on the wallet.

Perhaps there is more than just pollution from traffic that has carried over from the financial district on the evening breeze? According to Katherine Waterston, nominated for best supporting actress for her role in “The End We Start From,” it is clear to see that this certain something is present: “People often wonder why there are so many talented young filmmakers in England. It’s because they are given the opportunity to take risks, thanks to organizations like the BFI, BBC Film, and Film4 who support them while they do so.”

The common thread among the 2023 Bifa-nominated group is their embrace of the “high-risk, high-reward” attitude. One example is the film titled “How to Have Sex,” as mentioned by Rye Lane star David Jonsson, which is considered a risky search term when Googled.

The Bifa awards ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, December 3rd.

Guide to Sexual Intercourse

in a short film

Mia McKenna-Bruce has been nominated for the award for her leading role in a short film.

Mia McKenna-Bruce

It is uncommon for a movie to resonate with viewers on such a powerful, emotionally charged level as How to Have Sex has achieved. The film, directed by Molly Manning Walker, draws inspiration from her own experiences on post-GCSE clubbing vacations, but it also captures the essence of all the awkward and inebriated teenage years of Brits, including that of lead actress Mia McKenna-Bruce. McKenna-Bruce shared, “Even before we started filming in Malia, the script had me reminiscing with my old school friends about all those times when we pretended to enjoy the ‘jokes’, pretended to be okay with them, when in reality, we were not.”

Although she convincingly portrays a 16-year-old in the movie, McKenna-Bruce’s actual age is 26. She has appeared in shows such as EastEnders and will also be in Netflix’s 2022 adaptation of Persuasion. Despite her other credits, it was her subtle and empathetic portrayal of Tara that brought her recognition. McKenna-Bruce had a realization of the significance of this achievement during the standing ovation at the Cannes film festival premiere of How to Have Sex. She describes it as the craziest and most overwhelming moment of her life, even more so than when she had a baby.

Polite Society

Priya Kansara, breakthrough performance

Priya Kansara

You anticipate Priya Kansara to make a dramatic entrance into the room with a powerful kick, showcasing her impressive skills as an aspiring stuntwoman Ria in Nida Manzoor’s film Polite Society. She shares that she thoroughly enjoyed her training for the role and continues to practice jujitsu in her everyday routine. She jokingly claims to be fully prepared to take on any bad guys, but in reality, she admits she would probably be the first to run away in a real-life situation.

Kansara’s introduction was a graceful and elegant entrance, befitting her role as a debutant in several scenes of Bridgerton’s second season. However, she is always ready to defend her film with action: “This film may not fit the traditional Bifa mold, but it also doesn’t fit into the typical commercial action-comedy category. It’s unique and outside the norm, and I am proud to have been a part of something that embraces its own craziness and uniqueness.”


The top performance in a leading role was delivered by George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett working together.

George MacKay and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Experiencing the excitement of meeting actors who are completely different from their on-screen personas is amplified when the stars of Femme engage in conversation. The film, a dark and provocative romantic thriller, will be released on December 1st and not only showcases transformative acting, but also delves into the role of performance in our lives. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who portrays the character Jules, a drag artist caught in a complex power dynamic with his former gay basher turned romantic partner, reflects on the themes of masculinity and empowerment present in the film. He notes that the concept of “putting on faces” and adapting to different situations is a major aspect of the story.

George MacKay, who co-starred in the film, appeared to be very enthusiastic and inspired. While most people recognize him for his role as a young soldier in 1917, his performance as the closeted ex-convict Preston was outstanding. He credits this to the atmosphere on set, which was full of energy and enthusiasm due to the young crew. Even when filming night scenes in London, there was a sense of rebellion in the air.

The Beginning of Our Journey

for the movie

Katherine Waterston delivered an outstanding supporting performance in the film.

Katherine Waterston

Mahalia Belo’s survival thriller, The End We Start From, will be released on January 19th. In the film, Katherine Waterston portrays a woman who is able to maintain her sanity and humor in the toughest of circumstances. Waterston praises the writing of Alice Birch and expresses her initial hesitation in taking on the role of O. However, she ultimately found joy in playing the character and was reminded of her love for acting.

Waterston is a British-American actress known for her roles in Inherent Vice and the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Throughout her career, she has received 14 nominations for acting awards, but her recent Bifa nomination holds a special significance. She believes that British independent films offer more creative freedom, resulting in more complex and well-developed characters that are not influenced by outside influences.

In Camera

in a British feature film

Nabhaan Rizwan gave an exceptional lead performance in a feature film from Britain.

Nahbaan Rizwan

In a perfect world, the charming and highly intelligent leading man of In Camera (set to release next year) would have already been chosen as the next 007. However, with past roles in popular projects like Riz Ahmed’s Mogul Mowgli and the TV miniseries Station Eleven, would taking on such a mainstream role even be appealing? “Being an artist and doing a franchise is possible,” says Nabhaan Rizwan. “But I would only do it if I have the freedom to approach it in my own way and question everything… We must question everything we are given: from our upbringing, our cultural influences, and the industry we are entering.”

That opportunity to question is exactly what Rizwan’s electrifying In Camera collaboration with first-time writer-director Naqqash Khalid has afforded. That such a passionate and provocative film could not only get made, but also be award-nominated, is a sure sign of a British film scene in rude health. Rizwan says he too feels rejuvenated by the experience: “This feels like a start for me in many ways, like a debut, even though it’s not. I love working with first-time directors and Naqqash in particular, because you learn to walk together, but you also learn to fly together.”

Rye Lane

The top performers were Vivian Oparah and David Jonsson.

David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah:

Vivian Oparah responds dryly when praised for her role in the most talked-about romantic comedy of the year (and possibly the decade). She clarifies that the film actually delves into the challenges of dating in London. However, viewers familiar with Rye Lane will recognize this as just another display of Oparah’s playful and witty personality, which adds to the charm of her character Yas and her romantic counterpart Dom (played by David Jonsson) as they take a leisurely stroll through Peckham’s most enchanting spots.

The promotion of the film has brought the duo beyond the borders of south London and in the process, their undeniable chemistry has led to unintentional coordination of their outfits. This happened every day at Sundance, much to Oparah’s dismay as she looks at her green-patterned dress and Jonsson’s green-tinged gold shirt, which appears even greener without the camera flash. Despite this, Jonsson jokes that Oparah hates her, but Oparah quickly breaks into laughter. While writers Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia and director Raine Allen-Miller may have conjured up Rye Lane’s romantic atmosphere, the chemistry between the two is very real.

Source: theguardian.com