2007 BIFA behind the scenes

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Photo by Alan Diment. Julien Temple, director of Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten at the 2007 British Independent Film Awards at the Camden Roundhouse in London, Nov. 28.

This year, the red carpet at the British Independent Film Awards is flanked by a row of tall, flaming torches on each side giving the entrance to London’s Camden Roundhouse theater a somewhat pagan appearance. One might well expect a computer-enhanced Ray Winstone to leap from an arriving limo wearing little more than a loincloth whilst brandishing a broadsword and announcing, “My name is Beowulf and I’m here to kill your monstahhh!”

Winstone does indeed arrive in due course but he is pure flesh and blood and (thankfully) dressed more suitably for the grand occasion that is the British Independent Film Awards. He is just one of many noteworthy names to amble down the aisle on their way to give or receive an accolade or otherwise just have a darn good time. Dame Judi Dench, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Daniel Craig are all amongst those clutching their invites. The latter arrives in an appropriately sleek vehicle, complete with tinted windows and causes the biggest buzz of the evening amongst the assembled paparazzi and fans. The autograph hunters are out in full force tonight, equipped with portfolios of eight-by-10s, one, it seems, for every attendee. One hopes the signed photos will be preserved as treasured mementos rather than going to the highest bidder on eBay.

The attendant media are allowed to escape the cold evening drizzle and gather expectantly inside the press room where a TV relays the proceedings from the main auditorium. On my way there I am twice mistaken for a security guard (must be the suit). Once by Juliet Stevenson and then by Sophie Okonedo. I, therefore find myself in the enviable position of directing both these fine actresses but, alas, only towards the ladies room.

Inside the legendary rock venue the guests are eventually persuaded to abandon the bar and head into the main room for a pre-ceremony dinner. Long lines of waiters dressed in ninja black form a continuous chain from the kitchen to the numerous tables. When viewed from the floor above they appear to be human cogs in a well-oiled serving machine.

Presenter James Nesbitt starts the proceedings with a spoof song extolling the virtues of the BIFAs above all other award ceremonies and cheekily poking fun at “British directors who dress like tramps,” name checking Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears as examples. A little unfair perhaps although tonight Frears is indeed sporting a natty combination of a casual suit and trainers. Nesbitt also suggests that the best actor contest should be settled with an Eastern Promises-style fight in a bathhouse as “Viggo has the body but Jim Broadbent is a dirty bastard.”

Sam Riley is first on stage to collect his best newcomer trophy for playing the tragic rock star Ian Curtis in Control. He gives brief but genuine thanks before being whisked off to face the assorted queries of the press. “You always feel you could have done it a bit better,” he says of his speech, “but right now I’m buzzing.” He is asked about the reaction of the somewhat obsessive Curtis fans to his performance. “I haven’t been back to Manchester,” he admits, although says this is not a deliberate decision. “I got recognized by a stag-do of New Order fans which was quite a frightening experience. They liked it fortunately. The fact that New Order say they like it means that the fans sort of accept it.”

Riley’s co-star Toby Kebbell is not far behind holding an award for best supporting actor. Talk turns to Rob Gretton, the outspoken record producer he plays in the film. “The only bit of footage I had,” Kebbell says of his research, “was of him lying on a grassy knoll saying, ‘I always thought that Tony Wilson was a bit of c**t.’ ” Not that Gretton’s use of the more purple vernacular was a problem for Kebbell. “I swear loads anyway as I’m from Nottingham,” he says. “I actually had to swear less.” The actor also talks of his next role in Guy Ritchie’s new crime thriller RocknRolla. “I play a crack head so I had to lose loads of weight but I soon put it back on again by sitting around eating lots of cake.”

Back in the auditorium, Eliot Grove, founder of the BIFAs, is not satisfied with the level of applause coming from the laid back audience. “Stop being so British!” the Canadian demands before presenting the Raindance Award to The Inheritance and a much less muted response.

When Daniel Craig arrives in the press room after winning the Variety award, he seems slightly surprised at the number of journalists waiting to greet him as though he was not the actor who currently inhabits the role of the world’s most famous secret agent. Bondage does not seem to have gone to his head at all. “I’m slightly shocked,” he modestly admits of his win before explaining the effect that 007 has had on his life. “I’ve had more freedom than I’ve ever had but I just keep going. As long as my career keeps ticking over I don’t mind.” A reporter asks if he saw the review of the latest Aston Martin on petrol-head TV show Top Gear. “I’m glad they gave it a good one. I was in a little bit of a sweat there but then I knew it was good anyway,” he says with a wry smile before confirming that he will definitely be driving it in the next Bond movie. He takes his leave but not before flying the flag for British film. “The British film industry is doing well. It’s healthy and alive,” he declares, as well he might.

Meanwhile, the trophies keep coming as do the arrivals in the press room. What would Joe Strummer make of the newly crowned best documentary that Julian Temple has made on his life? “He would have jumped up and strangled me and thrown the cans in the nearest campfire,” is the director’s belief. Temple then has a change of heart stating that, “I think that people who might not have known about Joe will now have some idea of what he was about and that is worthwhile for me.”

The evening is coming to an end but there is still one big name due to grace the room. Ray Winstone, winner of the special Richard Harris award, is a charming man off-screen but he exhibits a formidable presence which has no doubt helped to create his reputation as a movie tough guy. He certainly gives the overall impression that you would be wiser not to mess with him. “If you’d asked me 20 years ago I’d have said ‘bollocks’ to awards and all that,” he admits honestly. “It gives you a lot of confidence, it’s a great thing for the industry to say ‘well done’: you feel accepted and I’m overwhelmed by it.”

He is asked about the differences between appearing in independent and studio films. “Independent parts are usually the parts you wants to play,” he replies. “You get studio scripts and you’re normally a feed to a big American actor. Nine times out of 10 with an independent film, you pick up the script and you love it.” A PR person attempts to move him on from the group of print journalists to a waiting radio interview but with a commanding hand gesture he defers and politely says, “I’ll finish these people off because they’ve been standing here.”

What of his future plans? “I dunno,” says Winstone. “I’m not really ambitious in the way that I know what I want to do. If you are ambitious and set a goal for yourself what happens when you get there. You probably commit suicide or something.” With that he thanks us and goes off to placate the impatient radio journalist. Winstone is, as he might phrase it himself, a real “diamond.”

With the awards now all in deserving hands the ceremony has come to an end and the media are on their mobile phones discussing how to portray the evening in tomorrow’s editions. “Ray Winstone was very touching,” declares one female reporter to her editor, “but Daniel Craig is SEXY!” It is not yet time for the guests to go home, however, as the celebrations continue into the small hours of the morning. Earlier, Winstone had ended his acceptance speech with the words, “Let’s have a party!” Few of those gathered in the Camden Roundhouse feel inclined to disagree.

© 2007 Alan Diment. All rights reserved.

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