How BMW and BFI changed one filmmaking team’s life at BFI London Film Festival 2023

18th October 2023

It’s been a great year for movies at the London Film Festival, from new entries from Scorsese, Fincher, Sofia Coppola, and Yorgos Lanthimos to a litany of bold, new talent like Molly Manning Walker’s How to Have Sex and powerhouse performances, including Andrew Scott in Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers. However, film festivals have been and always will be, first and foremost, the place to discover new talent – LFF has tried to champion this through its Shorts stand. But this year, in collaboration with BMW, it brought back something that has long since disappeared from the UK filmmaking scene.

This year saw the inaugural BMW Filmmaking Challenge in collaboration with the BFI. The premise was simple: £10,000 and the best 8k-ready technology would be gifted to 5 lucky participants drawn from a pool of over 400 pitch decks and proposals, with the only restrictions placed on timing (each film must be 90 seconds long) and the aspect ratio (each film must fill BMW’s new ultra-wide 31.3-inch screen in its new electric car). It’s an incredible opportunity on its own, but the lucky handful would also be personally mentored by a filmmaking creative; this year, it was none other than acclaimed actor-filmmaker Michaela Coel, best known for I May Destroy You and Chewing Gum

The jury presiding over this year’s inaugural competition was documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia, former Empire editor turned screenwriter Terri White, and soon-to-be Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa. Given the theme of ‘Evolving Perspectives’, each of the judges was asked what they individually expected when anticipating how the filmmakers would ‘push the boundaries’ of their work: 

“To give the filmmakers the freedom within the restrictions to do what you want, be proud of whatever you create, be you. When I’ve been in that situation as a filmmaker, I came out with something I was proud of that I really wanted to show people. These are epic movies that are 90 seconds long, it’s amazing.” – Asif Kapadia.

“I was excited to see what talent and stories we would discover when barriers are gone. I think in most of the creative industry, we like to think it’s a meritocracy, but as someone who edited a film magazine for so long, I know that’s not always true. What was important for me was seeing BMW giving these filmmakers cold, hard cash, camera equipment and help to distribute – these are real, tangible things that remove barriers.” – Terri White.

“I didn’t know what to expect, which is what excited me so much about the project. How will you fill-up the screen, those 32 inches, was exciting to see. It was very emotional; I had to take a moment after each film to debrief and check in with myself! [Laughs.] It was so exciting to watch this group of filmmakers and think, ‘Oh thank god, the future of this industry is in safe hands.” – Ncuti Gatwa.

BMW Filmmaking Challenge 2023

Asif Kapadia, Terri White and Ncut Gatwa – BMW Filmmaking Challenge

Each of the films are available on BFI Player and are as follows: 

BLADES – “A group of young black boys run into a building. One of them is about to do the unimaginable”, directed by Christopher Chuky, produced by Tony Longe, and written by Eno Mfon.

DAYTIMERS – “An insight into Daytimers, the South Asian DJ collective that is breaking new ground in Britain “, written and directed by Tulsi Shivaan and produced by Eliza Lewis.

RICE BALL – “Told through animation, a young Taiwanese schoolkid is afraid to bring her lunch to school out of fear of being ridiculed for being different”, written and directed by Kristina Pringle, produced by Samantha Locock, Harry Shaw and Sophie Neophyto.

HEN DO – “Told through one continuous shot, en route to her hen weekend, bride-to-be Faye kills the vibe with a bombshell confession”, written and directed by Alia Ghafar, produced by Misha McCullagh.

WE COLLIDE – “Told through a split-screen technique, queercore romance, a visceral and immersive exploration of the power of the mosh pit and finding love in the most unlikely of places”, written and directed by Jason Bradbury and produced by Cheri Darbon.

Each short film is achingly brilliant and stunningly realised, with a level of accomplishment that rivals some of the big-budget productions I’ve seen at this year’s London Film Festival. Cinerama’s favourite (although it was incredibly difficult to choose) was RICE BALL, a warm hug of animation with art and sound design reminiscent of cosy Nintendo games and sweet storybooks. 

BMW Filmmaking Challenge 2023

Michaela Coel – BMW Filmmaking Challenge

The winner was unanimously Jason Bradbury and Cheri Darbo’s WE COLLIDE, which was shown later that evening in front of the Closing Night Gala of Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares’ The Kitchen. In a collaborative statement, the judges lauded the filmmakers’ creativity: “For us, it was unanimous: we were blown away by this film that illustrates the medium of short film, yet it could easily transition into a feature film. In just 90 seconds, this filmmaking team crafted a world filled with specificity, told a compelling story, and took us on an emotional character journey. It was brilliantly cast, confidently scripted, shot, and directed. The impactful ‘collision’ (enhanced by brilliant sound design) gave it both narrative function and cinematic intent.”

Amidst the backdrop of an evolving film industry navigating transformative challenges, Ncuti Gatwa, an actor known for his roles in Barbie and Sex Education, stated, “The film is an artistic force of nature. Every decision in the filmmaking process was filled with intent and served the narrative of the story. I knew watching the winning film that this was made by a filmmaking team that we will undoubtedly be seeing more of in the future.” 

BLADES, directed by Christopher Chuky and produced by Tony Longe, with a script by Eno Mfon, also received a special mention. The judges described it as “a stunning film that subverts stereotypes often seen on screen, showcasing the power of self-expression and the beauty and camaraderie in friendship.”

Beyond celebrating and showcasing new UK talent, the panel also touched on the disappearance and the importance of the return of these filmmaking grants and schemes. Terri White, in particular, noted the stark difference in the landscape of opportunities now compared to the early 2000s, and with the stunning array of character development, world-building, cinematic style and unflinching directorial boldness, it’s impossible to deny the importance of these schemes not only in highlighting new filmmaking talent but in continuing the evolution of British cinema. 

Below are several links to filmmaking funds, grants and schemes that are available in the UK, and we cannot wait to see what next year’s edition of the BMW x BFI Filmmaking Challenge brings.

BFI x Film4’s Future Takes Scheme

Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund

BFI Filmmaking Fund

Screen Scotland Filmmaking Fund

Northern Ireland Filmmaking Fund

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