Socially conscious films triumph at the EVCOM Screen Awards 2017

Kayleigh’s Love Story, a viral police film warning of the danger of online grooming, has won top prize at the ‘Oscars for specialist video’ in a year when serious, social themes dominated.

Patrick Russell
Updated:

Watch Kayleigh’s Love Story (2016), winner of the top prize at the 2017 EVCOM Screen Awards

“Warning: if shown in a cinema this would have a 15 certificate.” So begins Kayleigh’s Love Story, a five-minute film which proves that online video can be profoundly cinematic – and have greater impact than many a feature film.

Based on the horrific online grooming and murder of Kayleigh Haywood, the film has just taken the coveted top prize at this year’s EVCOM Screen Awards, often dubbed the Oscars of specialist video, which were hosted by Kirsty Lang at BAFTA on 23 June. Made by Affixxius Films for Leicestershire Police, it has racked up some 3m views in six months on YouTube alone.

Kayleigh’s Love Story typifies several fascinating trends in this year’s awards, which reveal a vibrant ecosystem inhabited both by expert veterans like The Edge Picture Company and Pukka Films and newer kids on the block, like Affixxius.

Regional production increasingly holds its own in an industry that’s often seemed London-centric: Affixxius are Loughborough-based and their other gold-winning project is also for a Midlands client, Trent Bridge. And across the board a confident filmic aesthetic definitively overturns the naff image that ‘corporate video’ inherited from the 1980s. The Trent Bridge film, which won best VFX and motion graphics, is a case in point:

Cricket Has Landed 3, 2016

It feels significant that so many of the winning films strike a serious, socially conscious note, with public and voluntary sector commissions taking more than 50% of gold awards for perhaps the first time since the 2008 crash. Several private sector winners also reflect a social responsibility agenda. It’s particularly noteworthy that five years after the closure of the Central Office of Information (COI), so many government agencies are again embracing creative filmmaking.

There’s not a dud among the nominated films, with many a miniature masterpiece to be found among the silver, bronze and highly commended winners as well as among the golds.

One of the highlights for me was the winner of the charity and not for profit category, a pro bono production for Northumberland Domestic Abuse Services by RAW Productions, who took overall top prize last year. They again bring an impressively creative yet apt approach to awareness-raising, and their film Control is a piece of ‘pure cinema’:

Control (2016)

Let Refugees Learn, by Brickwall for Refugee Action, is another great example of a clever idea executed with beautiful simplicity:

Let Refugees Learn (2016)

Contra emerged last year as a digital agency doing impressive film work, and cinematic aesthetics are again to the fore in their The Wait, a World Wildlife Fund Romania documentary (winning in cinematography), the university-commissioned #HerImperial (marketing and PR) and QPR: The Crest (winning for direction):

QPR: The Crest (2016)

Since their 2012 breakthrough Barbara’s Story, White Boat TV have become prime exponents of sensitive health drama. Seen and Heard, this year’s best training film, is no exception. Note the cinema-style client credit ‘A Department of Health film’ (they co-commissioned with The Children’s Society), and another on-screen warning of distressing content:

Seen and Heard (2016)

Though best known for outstanding drama, which in 2014 led to them producing a highly rated feature film, Kajaki, Pukka Films this year won the animation category for a public information campaign for the Intellectual Property Office. Register Your Designs is a fine addition to a great tradition: 

Register Your Designs (2016)

Turning to the private sector, Buddy Films’ Ways of Being Co-Op, winning gold in the recruitment and induction section, is another highly engaging human interest documentary, emphasising its client’s social roots and ethos with an aptly homespun style: 

Ways of Being Co-Op (2016)

HSBC’s video unit is undoubtedly one of the busiest internal production units of modern times. For several years now, their HSBC Now campaign has generated a wealth of films about staff worldwide, serving both internal and external comms. Best documentary this year was this film about a Taiwanese employee’s same-sex wedding:

Jennifer’s Wedding (2016)

Unilever, meanwhile, is one of the most prolific commissioners of films by independent production companies, such as Plastic Pictures’ #CollectiveAction, a corporate social responsibility film that took the gold award for editing. You’ll quickly see (and hear) why:

#CollectiveAction (2016)

The Screen Innovation award went to A-Vision’s production of an online ‘video brochure’ for apartments.com, while live video gold was taken by Embolden. Previously named CTN Communications, they celebrate their 25th anniversary this year and have long been pioneers in use of live broadcast and webcast video, as in this year’s winning project for wildlife charity Tusk Trust. The video below gives some idea of this logistically impressive undertaking:

Tusk Time (2016)

Not all winning projects are easily findable online – some may not yet be on full release, with others no doubt sitting on platforms restricted to target viewers. Having had a sneak preview a few months back of Pretzel and Peggy’s Smoking Kids, which won EVCOM’s Laurus award for best low-budget project, I can highly recommend its bold use of hidden camera techniques in support of a Public Health England anti-smoking campaign.

On the evidence of Friday night’s graphic clips, Danger! Home Made Explosives, by Zinc Media for the Centre for Protection of the National Infrastructure is in the best tradition of Straker Films, bought up by Zinc last year.

Promotion and Sales winner Bring Your Own Device is another HSBC production but made by The Edge Picture Company. The Edge are, and will undoubtedly remain for many years to come, one of the sector’s biggest hitters. That they only took one gold this year (after winning 10 last year) only tells us how many players there are on today’s scene (no-one won more golds this year than the three taken home by Contra).

Kirsty Lang’s opening speech had three overarching emphases. First, the sector’s rich heritage: the previous day she’d watched 1936’s Night Mail on BFI Player. Second, its role in national reputation building: Britain is one of the world’s leading screen communications industries; it’s just a shame it doesn’t have as much profile at home as some other screen industries.

Third, and finally: no-one can gainsay the power of film to change minds and lives in the year when video for social media reportedly played a decisive role in the general election. Perhaps some of these election videos should be nominated for next year’s awards?

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