How to run the BIFAs

If you’ve seen any pictures or videos of the British Independent Film Awards (BIFAs), you might be led into thinking that BIFA is a fairly big organisation with an impressive central London office and maybe some screening rooms to boot. Peek behind the curtain (or, in our case, up on a balcony at the back of the auditorium) and in fact you’ll find a tiny team working mostly from home across different parts of the UK.

Each year, the huge task of organising BIFA’s ceremony falls on the shoulders of a surprisingly small three-person team. Both of BIFA’s co-directors, Amy Gustin and Deena Wallace, have young kids and squeeze all things BIFA around school drop-offs, pick-ups and kids’ clubs. Like the rest of us, Amy and Deena only have twenty-four hours in the day and so being able to work from home is a must. This flexibility also means that BIFA’s third and final team member- awards and events co-ordinator, Orestes Kouzof – has been able to trade in the crowded commutes and smoggy streets of London for some quiet countryside near Manchester where he, too, works from home.

BIFA is proud to receive the Raising Films ribbon for the support and flexibility it allows its team. Despite busy schedules and separate locations, the BIFA team are able to divide and conquer and bring us the British Independent Film Awards each December. As the run up to the 2019 ceremony begins, Rachel Clarke caught up with Deena to talk more about the juggling act of organising BIFA alongside having young children.

Image of Deena Wallace and Amy Gustin

How did you get into running awards ceremonies?
By accident. I started off in children’s TV at the BBC. After a stint working on a children’s film festival and then at Raindance Film Festival, which founded BIFA, I began helping out on the Awards. I did a few other jobs in film before coming back to Awards at BAFTA and then back full circle to BIFA.

What does a normal day look like?
There isn’t one, really. I usually drop my children at school and then either work at home or head into town for meetings. We try to cluster meetings to make the most efficient use of our days and relish a whole day free of meetings to actually get done all the stuff we have been talking about! Some days have to end with a school pick up at 3.15 (and sneaky emailing from the side of the pool during the children’s swimming lessons), others a bit later if the kids have clubs or some after school childcare. Once they are fed, clean and in bed then usually there’s a bit more to do…

How do you work together as co-directors to organise BIFA?
Amy and I both have children of similar ages, so we are both very aware of how difficult it can be to juggle that and a job that should really be full time We are lucky to have a very good working relationship (and similar, complementary approaches, though different skillsets) which allow us to pick up and pass on work between us. For some things it’s more efficient for us both to work on something together (planning concepts for events together or sometimes in relay on drafts of a proposal, say) and for others, we divide and conquer.

What challenges do you face being co-directors who both have young children and how do you overcome these?
It’s not possible to do everything; children always get ill and schools always have INSET days at the most inconvenient times. Amy and I are always happy to cover for one another under those circumstances as there’ll definitely be a chance to return the favour in the near future.

Your workload must get very full on in the weeks before the ceremony. How do you balance work/family during such a hectic period?
It’s a bit of a juggling act but it’s a relatively short period and we’re trying to find ways to make it more manageable, but so much of our year converges on a few months with a whole run of hard deadlines that can’t be missed, there’s a limit to how much we will be able to change that on the budget that the organisation operates on currently. But because we’re able to work flexibly, Amy and I can always make sure that we don’t miss family deadlines either.

Have your caring responsibilities changed how you work / how you approach your work?
Yes. I think I work a lot faster and smarter than before. There’s no choice really as otherwise it won’t all get done. But I miss reading a book on the way to work instead of answering a bunch of emails. That ability to work anywhere is great and makes juggling children and work a lot easier, but it can also make it harder to mark a clear line between work and not work. And not work is very important!

What have been some of your career highlights?
I’m proud of what Amy, Orestes and I have achieved with BIFA over the last four years – I think what we’ve done has made it more inclusive and accessible, and more firmly embedded at the heart of the independent industry. People are always very surprised that there are only three (well, two-and-a-half) of us doing all of it, and that says a lot about the commitment, effort and care that goes into it. Also, it’s lots of fun.

Over the past few years BIFA has grown exponentially and now boasts a pool of nearly 700 voters. Each year active voters are split into smaller subgroups who attend meetings to discuss and vote on the films entered. Again, BIFA is pretty flexible with its voters, understanding that not everyone lives in London, that some voters have families and caring responsibilities and that sometimes people are just very busy. To relieve the pressure a bit, voters have the option of attending meetings online if they cannot make it in person and the BIFA voting site saves comments that can be taken into account in someone’s absence during subgroup discussions.

As part of their commitment to work towards achieving high standards of inclusivity and equality in the industry, BIFA has announced their Unconscious Bias Training Programme for voters is now also open to any non-voters engaged in the judging of work. BIFA was the first awards body to train its pool of voters to recognise where their unconscious biases may be influencing decisions. Offering the choice between attending workshops in London and completing online training at home, BIFA have made it easy to join in! If you’re interested, you can read more about the training and book onto a session.

Image credits:
Guests on the red carpet for BIFA 2018 © Holly Clark
From L to R Deena Wallace and Amy Gustin prepare for BIFA 2015 © Nikki Wills

The Raising Films ribbon is available to production companies, festivals and conferences, training schemes and educational institutions.
It will be awarded to acknowledge activity that takes into the account the needs of parents and carers.