First Wellcome Trust screenwriting prize awarded

Al Smith has won the first ever Wellcome Trust Screenwriting Prize for Halflife, a coming-of-age love story centred around two brain-damaged teenagers on a road trip.

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Winner Al Smith and runner-up Sam Firth with Ben Roberts (top left), Clare Matterson (bottom right) and the jury

Winner Al Smith and runner-up Sam Firth with Ben Roberts (top left), Clare Matterson (bottom right) and the jury

The £20,000 prize was announced on Monday 8 October by Ben Roberts, Director of the BFI Film Fund, at an awards ceremony.

A special commendation was also awarded to screenwriter and experimental filmmaker Sam Firth, who was given a £10,000 prize to help her develop further her proposed experimental documentary The Story of Me and You, exploring the nature of memory, reality and objective truth.

Launched in June this year, the major new annual screenwriting prize is run in association with the BFI Film Fund. The award aims to encourage high-quality feature films inspired by biology and medicine. As well as receiving a £20,000 cash prize to develop their idea to first draft, the winning screenwriter receives support from the Wellcome Trust to connect them with world-leading scientists and to help identify commercial partners and producers.

Al Smith, whose previous credits include BBC2 short film series The Cut and the long-running BBC programmes Casualty and Holby City, won the prize for his proposal, entitled Halflife, which follows the story of two teenagers, each with brain damage that makes them incomplete, but as they fall in love, together they can become a complete person.

Al Smith

Al Smith

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, says:

Although the quality of shortlisted entries was extremely high, we were unanimous in our decision to award Al Smith our first ever Screenwriting Prize. His story is imaginative and well-structured with strong, believable characters. We hope that this award and the support of the BFI and Film 4 will enable him to develop this into a rich and thought-provoking film.

Lizzie Francke, Senior Executive in the BFI Film Fund, who helped judge the prize, says:

The Wellcome Trust Screenwriting Prize has been an exciting initiative to be involved with and has provided a significant new opportunity for screenwriters. Al Smith is a talented writer with a strong background in theatre and television. We’re delighted that with the support that this prize provides, Al can now continue to develop his screenwriting voice.

Eva Yates, Development Editor at Film4, who also sat on the judging panel, says:

Key to our decision to award Al Smith and Sam Firth prizes was how imaginative and compelling their ideas were. Al’s was a great story that we felt he would execute very skilfully, and was extremely considered in the way it incorporated biomedicine into the story. Sam’s was a more experimental piece but also has enormous potential in terms of storytelling and science, and we are all delighted by Wellcome Trust’s generosity in offering an additional prize for a second project so that she has the opportunity to pursue her vision too.

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