Nineties Nostalgia: Celebrating the Legacy of Simon Relph

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This summer, the BFI Southbank hosted a series of film screenings as part of their ‘Nineties: Young Cinema Rebels’ season. This two-month programme revisited the ‘explosive, transformative and challenging’ film and TV scene of the 1990’s, telling the story of the decade through films from directors that were just breaking through.

Film making in the nineties was certainly explosive. A new generation of independent producers were fuelled by cheaper production methods, a youthful creative energy and the turbulence that came in the aftermath of the Thatcher era. Those who had not previously seen themselves represented in creative content began crafting their own stories and taking them to the big screen. Cult classics such as Isaac Julian’s Young Soul Rebels started to explore the vibrancy of communities outside of the mainstream and the complexities of contemporary British life.

The BFI’s choice to return to the powerful voices of the past emphasised to me the importance of supporting our independent film industry in the present day. Film and TV content has long been a way that we’ve reflected the state of the country, told stories of identity and promoted a diverse way of life. Whilst today we still see independent films used for social commentary or to build identity, with titles such as in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, or Idras Elba’s Yardie; producers at the very start of their careers are finding it increasingly difficult to break into the industry. Without personal wealth or a well-established network to draw upon, financing film ideas in the current climate is tough.

Simon Relph was co-chair of the BAFTA Film Committee throughout the explosive nineties.  A lifelong champion of independent film and an avid supporter of young producers and directors, his passion was critical to the profile and growth of independent British cinema throughout the decade. Later, as Chairman of the BAFTA Academy, he worked tirelessly to create the infrastructure to support new talent and opened doors for many emerging producers who went on to have successful careers. 

After his death in 2016, many of those of us who had been helped by Simon wanted to repay the favour and make a contribution to the industry. We wanted to reflect the spirit of Simon’s generous nature and give tangible support to develop the early careers of independent film makers. The Simon Relph Memorial Bursary offers a selected producer £15,000, as well as the use of BAFTA’s London office and a space on Creative England’s competitive Market Trader programme.

In the world of producing, these are the things that really make a difference. Using last year’s award, Calibre producer Anna Griffin was able to take the time to build her Nottingham-based production company Griffin Pictures, and has now developed her own slate of exciting films for release.

Last week, we opened applications for the bursary’s second year. We’re looking for an emerging producer, based outside of London, with the drive, fresh perspective and interesting stories that we can help to give a foot up into the industry.

In this second year, I think that Simon’s bursary comes at a crucial time for us to support emerging filmmakers. Once more we are living through great political and societal turbulence. Like in the nineties, it’s a time where the content we help to reach our screens can be used to portray the complexities of contemporary British life and politics. Film and TV can alter attitudes, bring communities together and paint the picture of Britain that we want to show the world. If I may steal the words of Lord Reith, the first director general of the BBC; this is a time where our creative content can inform, educate and entertain.

Whilst at Creative England, we don’t yet know whether this year’s bursary recipient will create content that distracts us, demands our attention or draws out the young rebel soul inside of us, we do know it will make a difference. It will certainly make a difference to one young filmmaker’s career, and in doing, we hope that it will make a difference to the independent film scene Simon worked so hard to support.


The Simon Relph Memorial Bursary is open for applications. Find out more details and apply here before 14th October.

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