2020 Grierson Documentary Awards: the winners in full

BFI curator Steven Foxon reports on this year’s virtual ceremony, where Asif Kapadia was recognised for his outstanding contribution to documentary and For Sama was named best cinema doc.

13 November 2020

By Steven Foxon

For Sama (2019)

The winners of the 2020 Grierson Documentary Awards were announced last night, with the award for best cinema documentary going to Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ searing study of life in Aleppo, For Sama. 

Best documentary short went to Country Girl, which was funded by the BFI Doc Society. Mobeen Azhar was awarded best presenter for his series Hometown: A Killing, and acclaimed filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy) was recognised for his achievements in documentary, taking the BBC Grierson trustees’ award, the highest honour in the trust’s accolades.

The 2020 awards were always destined to be a slightly different viewing experience to previous years and the host – comedian and actor Sara Pascoe – presented the event via a live YouTube stream. 

So for me it was out with the etiquette of black ties and mingling and in with a mug of tea, a selection of biscuits and my comfiest chair. The location might have been different, but the quality of entries was as high as ever. Close calls in some categories warranted an unprecedented 7 special commendations.
“2020 has been a year like no other,” the chair of The Grierson Trust, Lorraine Heggessey commented, “from the Black Lives Matter campaign, continued political upheaval in the US and elsewhere and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic. This tumult and its energy, is reflected in our winning films.”

This year’s awards were well spread across the broadcast channels and theatrical docs, with the BBC and Channel 4 each taking 4 awards and ITV, Netflix and Channel 5 all taking a win each – a first for Channel 5 with Suicidal: In Our Own Words. Channel 4’s Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain took a double crown with best historical documentary and best series.

Heggessey said: “John Grierson believed documentaries play a crucial role in countering threats to democracy and highlighting issues that matter to society. This is amply demonstrated by the finalists and winners of this year’s awards, which shine fresh light on a wide range of issues from dementia and disability rights, through civil war and ethnic cleansing to mental health and the destruction of our natural world. They are powerful, bold stories told with skill and compassion. Congratulations to them all.”

The winners in full

Best single documentary – domestic

Suicidal: In Our Own Words (Channel 5)

Best single documentary – international

Crip Camp (Netflix)

Best current affairs documentary

Undercover: Inside China’s Digital Gulag (ITV)

Best arts or music documentary

Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall (theatrical release)

Best historical documentary

Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain – episode 1 (Channel 4)

Best science documentary

War in the Blood (BBC Two)

Best natural history documentary

The Last Igloo (BBC Four)

Best entertaining documentary

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan: Zimbabwe (BBC Two)

Best documentary series

Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain (Channel 4)

Best constructed documentary series

The Restaurant That Makes Mistakes (Channel 4)

Best cinema documentary

For Sama (Channel 4 & PBS Frontline for theatrical release)

Best documentary short

Country Girl (BFI Doc Society/ Open City)

Best student documentary

Miss Curvy (NFTS)

Best documentary presenter

Mobeen Azhar for Hometown: A Killing (BBC Three)

BBC Grierson trustees’ award

Asif Kapadia for outstanding contribution to documentary

Originally published: 13 November 2020