Discovery, curiosity and adventure

Lizzie talks about the hunt for filmmaking DNA and talent safaris.

6 April 2016

Lizzie 1.jpg

a close up on a woman's face on the edge of a corn field
Sweetie (1989)

After nearly 30 years of working in film I would now call myself something of a veteran — at least I have the festival badges to prove it. But still now, as when I first started, the bit of my job that most thrills me is the discovery of new talent that’s deliciously surprising. It's the explorer in me — always curious, always adventurous, always hopeful of what I might find. When I first started out as a junior cinema programmer, I had to do a lot of adventuring, or, more prosaically, travelling, to find exciting new voices. In the late 1980s British cinema seemed like a small and narrow pool, so you had to look afar for variety and to sustain vitality.

A still very vivid memory of discovery was on one of my first trips to the Cannes Film Festival, in 1988. On the first day I went off to see Sweetie, by the then unknown Jane Campion. I’d viewed one of her shorts, A Girl’s Own Story, at Edinburgh Film Festival and had loved its quirky inventiveness and its very female-centred vision, so was excited by the prospect of her feature. As Sweetie unspooled, I was thrilled and moved by the strange, off-kilter tale of two sisters — the DNA of Campion’s imagination identified in the short had spilled out into the feature. An inspiring film career was fully launched at that moment; daring, different, distinct. I would have walked 10,000 miles for that first viewing. And the short had primed me for the journey to the ‘gods’ in that Cannes cinema (on the far right-hand side, a couple of rows from the back) — yes, I can still remember where I was sitting when I first saw Sweetie!

close up of three girls looking into a camera
A Girl's Own Story (1984)

The hunt for filmmaking DNA that’s bold, distinctive and sets the pulse a-patter is at the heart of what my colleagues and I do at the BFI and NET.WORK. Thankfully (for this veteran at least) there’s less running around to do to now. When my much-missed colleague, the late Chris Collins, and I first talked about ways we could discover and nurture new generations of talent we wanted to create something that was democratic and open — a place to congregate, but also a space that executives like me could go on our talent safaris. The NET.WORK website and Postroom was designed so that anyone could have the chance to be discovered, to be the next Campion or — to jump forward to the fantastic recent generation of British directors, writers and producers — a Clio Barnard, Carol Morley, Richard Ayoade, Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump, Andrew Haigh or Tristan Goligher (I could go on and on, which is testament to the vibrancy of British film right now)...

Certainly, speaking for myself, I plan to log on to NET.WORK and hope that in one of my regular trawls I’ll find a short film or a fragment of a script that surprises and delights me. Something that in years to come I'll say, “I remember where I was sitting when I first saw/read that.”

A woman wears red heart shaped sunglasses on the beach
Sweetie (1989)