The best of brand film: EVCOM London Film and Live Awards 2020

BFI curator Patrick Russell reports on this year’s EVCOM awards, celebrating innovation and creativity within the brand film sector.

20 November 2020

By Patrick Russell

EVCOM Awards 2020

Last week it was the Griersons, last night it was the turn of the EVCOMs to bring awards season into the comfort of creatives’ homes. There’s an aptness to these 2 virtual ceremonies falling close together: they represent 2 sides of pioneer non-fiction filmmaker John Grierson’s legacy. The Grierson Trust celebrates documentary – now principally seen on television as well as in cinemas. The Event and Visual Communication Association represents moving image commissioned by organisations addressing public, staff and stakeholders – increasingly dubbed brand film, it’s mostly delivered online.

Grierson’s pre-TV generation of documentarists was sponsored by state and industry bodies. Deeply interested in the role of civic communication in democratic societies, he’d doubtless be fascinated by the internet, and film’s increasingly central place in it. 

Last night, the one he’d most quickly recognise as coming from his tradition is 9 Second Lift, which won EVCOM gold for best documentary. It’s by Content Engine, current name for Shell’s in-house production team; the Shell Film Unit was founded in 1934 under advice from Grierson himself. This piece sits in the tradition of well-mounted industrial documentaries encapsulating a challenging engineering project with a certain majesty.  

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Grierson would also recognise the risky balancing acts involved in making commissioned movies. Producers Raw London have increasingly impressed with their compassionate, creative campaigning films for NGOs. Last night they took the gold award for brand communication for The Inescapable Truth, a film commissioned to highlight publication of a report of the same name by assisted-dying charity Dignity in Dying. But the unflinching film provoked controversy and was pulled from social media.

For far from the first time, the biggest bagful last night went to the Edge Picture Company. Celebrating their 30th anniversary next year, they show no signs of losing business or creative pre-eminence. They nabbed no fewer than 5 gold awards (plus silvers and bronzes, including a clean sweep of the health and safety category, repeating a feat they’d achieved in 2016). Their winners included a sumptuously photographed recruitment film for videogames company Catalis, a finely crafted safety warning for the Energy Networks Association, and 2 particularly excellent one-act dramas made for OpenReach’s internal training programme on workplace violence. I also enjoyed their ultra-economical promo for confidential employee advisers The Guardian Service:

Next up in terms of numbers was Taylor Made Media, a mere stripling at only 10 years old who’ve performed well in London and Cannes in recent years. They took 3 gold gongs: for the cinematography of Flagship Farmers, the editing of their Vogue Scandinavia promo and best use of video content in an event (an Accenture leadership conference).

Media Zoo is another agency increasingly visible in UK and international awards. In-house creative Alex Webb took best director prize for Make the Call. Not online (like the OpenReach videos, it’s used instead in dedicated training sessions by its client the NSPCC), it’s a hauntingly powerful prompt (to bus and taxi drivers) to recognise subtle signs of abuse of young people. 

Best scriptwriter award went to Tom Williams for a suite of films by Pukka Films used by Saipem in their internal ethics training programme. Pukka excel at staff-facing films using mature character-based drama to engage viewers both emotionally and cerebrally, and Williams’ partnership with director Paul Katis (best known in the mainstream for directing feature film Kajaki, scripted by Williams) must be one of the most productive writer-director teams in this business. As with the OpenReach and NSPCC projects, the Saipem series is not open-access, but their trailer is below:

Multimedia agency Radley Yeldar have become increasingly fine film practitioners over recent years and their disability rights film Invalid Opinions, for the International Labour Organisation, is a punchily powerful piece that took 2 awards:

Educational specialists EVERFI EdComs won an innovation award for a project for the British Olympics and Paralympics Associations, while Midlands-based drpgroup, who continue to put out their share of great films as part of a mix of media, were recognised for the animation they’d imaginatively integrated into live action in their film Unbreakable, for the Springboard social charity:

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In a recent landmark report, industry analysts Moving Image News presented the first systematic study of the sector in 15 years, concluding that it’s worth over £1bn in direct annual turnover, that it’s a significant export industry, and that there are at least 1,000 production agencies actively in the field. This must mean many tens of thousands of films produced annually and yet, despite the Grierson lineage, the industry lacks the prestige and even sheer visibility of sister sectors. The film used to launch the report makes fascinating viewing. A riff on the famous ‘I’m a Mac / I’m a PC’ advertising campaign, it effectively pitches the 2 parts of Grierson’s legacy into direct dialogue:

A healthy media ecosystem will be one where all sectors are given the attention that their productivity demands: industrial and cultural, celebratory and critical. The above film was directed by Tim Langford, who also helmed this year’s EVCOM/BFI partnership production These Are the Hands. A screening of this powerful NHS fundraiser, originally released in April, concluded last night’s ceremony and arguably pulls together several parts of Grierson’s complicated legacy.