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An Overview of the Grierson Trust British Documentary Awards

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Britain's Most Prestigious Documentary Awards

The Grierson Trust British Documentary Awards are presented each year in recognition of outstanding achievement in documentary filmmaking in ten categories:

  • Deluxe 142 Best Documentary On a Contemporary Theme - Domestic
  • Shell Best Documentary On a Contemporary Theme - International
  • Best Documentary On The Arts
  • ITN Source Best Historical Documentary
  • Best Science Documentary
  • Most Entertaining Documentary
  • Envy Best Documentary Series
  • DocHouse & The Bertha Foundation Best Cinema Documentary
  • CTVC Best Newcomer Documentary
  • Sky Arts Best Student Documentary

The specific awards categories have changed over the years. Those listed here are set for the 2012 awards season.

Additionally, the annual Trustees Award is presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the art and/or business of documentary filmmaking

Status and Eligibility

Celebrating their 40th anniversary in 2012, the Grierson Trust British Documentary Awards have become and are currently the most established and prestigious nonfiction film awards presented in the United Kingdom, since BAFTA had neglected the documentary category for years.

The Grierson British Documentary Awards, however, are not designed to recognize achievement in the different skills -- production, editing, graphics, music, among others -- utilized in documentary filmmaking, as are the US-based Cinema Eye Honors, for example.

Nonfiction films made anywhere around the globe are eligible for the Grierson British Documentary Awards, but they must have had their premiere United Kingdom screening during the qualifying period, which lasts from May of one year to April of the next.

Submissions for awards consideration are accepted from during April and May of each year. The deadline for submissions is the beginning of June. A film may be submitted for consideration in more than one category.

Submissions must be accompanied by an application fee, which with tax amounts to 234 British Pounds Sterling (or roughly $377, as of April, 2012).

A separate fee must be paid for each film, and for each category to which that film is submitted. There are, however, two exceptions. There is no submission fee charged for films entered into the Newcomer and Student documentary categories.

Judges, Awards Presentation and History

The Grierson Trust invites leading British documentary filmmakers, producers, commissioning editors and other experts to serve as jurors for the awards. The jury panels change annually. Lists of jurors on panels for past years are available on the Grierson Trust Website.

As of 2012, two of the awards categories -- Newcomer and Student -- have cash prizes of 3,000 British Pounds Sterling (or approximately $4834).

The Grierson British Documentary Awards are presented in early November of each year, at a gala ceremony that's held at BFI London Southbank.

The awards are named for the pioneering Scottish documentary filmmaker John Grierson (1898 - 1972), whose best known and highly acclaimed films include Drifters and Night Mail. Grierson is considered by the international documentaries community to be one of the fathers of the documentary genre of filmmaking.

The Grierson British Documentary Awards were established in 1972, to honor and celebrate outstanding achievements in nonfiction filmmaking in the United Kingdom and around the world, especially recognizing those films that meet high standards of quality, integrity, creativity, originality and overall excellence, and have made a significant contribution to the documentary genre.

The award categories have changed over the years, and a record of all awards is published on the Grierson Trust Website. Past winners have included:

Administration and Organization

The Grierson Trust is a nonprofit that was formed to take over the Grierson British Documentary Awards administration from the British Federation of Film Societies (BFFS) in 1972, after the death of John Grierson. Guided by several successive Chairpersons, the organization and awards ceremonies have grown steadily over the years.

Some controversy erupted when Shell Oil was accepted at the corporate sponsor of the Best Documentary On a Contemporary Theme - International Award. One filmmaker, Dom Shaw, actually returned the award he'd received in 1981/82 for his punk music film, Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed (co-directed with Hasan Shah) as a protest, stating that he thought in partnering with Shell Oil, "the Trust has lost its perspective and a sizable proportion of its credibility with filmmakers." The Shell Oil sponsorship remains in place.

Other corporate sponsorships and partnerships are with corporations working within the filmmaking community, including Deluxe 142 Post Production Services, ITN, CTVC and the Bertha Foundation, among others.

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