The British Council's new Director of Film is Briony Hanson, who joined in July 2011 from filmmaker training organisation, The Script Factory.
Briony Hanson on stage interviewing screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Image Clare Muller 2009).
Your connection to the British Council?
I’m the new Director of Film for the British Council - I started in July 2011. Prior to that I was Director of The Script Factory, a filmmaker training organisation based in London which benefited from many years of British Council Film support in taking training programmes and staging onstage filmmaker discussion events abroad.
Your current project?
It’s my new job to make sure that Film is as important as all the other art forms to the British Council and to make sure film has a real impact on the work of the British Council overall. I’m currently looking at all the existing activities and making sure they are all valuable in terms of creating the best possible connections between our great British films and filmmakers and their international peers, the film industry and international audiences. Then I’ll be identifying the most useful new partnerships and new opportunities for us and making them a reality. Oh – and finding ways to pay for some great big ideas. Should have it all finished… any day now.
What/who turned you on to film?
Well I was always a bit of an addict of films on TV (my teenage years were full of BBC2 late night treats) but the proper kickstart was probably my college tutors (including Heather Stewart – now leads the BFI's collections). I studied History of Art in Newcastle choosing the city rather than the subject and when I arrived discovered film could be a major area of study in the curriculum. As my housemates headed off to their 9am lectures in maths, economics, accounting every Monday morning, I settled down for the first screening of every week – and was hooked from that moment.
Career high so far?
It’s a toss up between interviewing Julianne Moore on stage for her London Film Festival ScreenTalk - huge fun, brilliant insights, and not a little star struck (me not her)… and inventing the Sing-along-a Sound of Music in 1999 which I did with my colleague Robin Baker (now Head of the BFI Archive). We dreamt it up as a silly little event for a joke as part of the London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival of which we were programmers, thinking it would entertain us and a few mates on the night. It turned into the giant hit of the festival but none of us realised it was going to take off quite like it did, running every single Friday night since then in the West End, opening at the Hollywood Bowl 6 months later (with the full original cast in attendance) and touring internationally from then ‘til now. It’s even become part of the lingo – as Kurt from Glee said in the latest series: ‘but Sing-along-a-Sound of Music is sacred to me’. Imagine if Robin and I hadn’t egged each other on all those years ago – 'come on, it’ll be hilarious'..'
Your first job in the film industry?
Usherette at the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle. I worked on Saturdays and had to sell kia-ora from a tray and sing happy birthday from the front of the stalls at every kid’s matinee. It’s been downhill from there.
Favourite British film?
Can’t possibly pin this down – looking back the list would include Kes, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Orlando, Rebecca and Black Narcissus (and not just because of Sister Briony). More recently Fish Tank, Happy Go Lucky, The Arbor, We Need To Talk About Kevin.
If you could have been involved in (directed, produced, acted in etc…) any film ever made, which one would it be?
Far From Heaven. Todd Haynes is the filmmaker of my lifetime – every film he’s ever done has flaws but also some hard to define elements of sheer brilliance. Except for this one which just has the latter. Oh and a whole sequence of ladies dressed (by the fabulous British costumier Sandy Powell) as Autumnal leaves.
What’s the first film you ever saw?
Bambi, with my grandparents at the old ABC in Exeter. ‘ Mother..??’ Still the saddest line in movie history.
Your favourite line or scene from a film?
Not sure about favourite but ‘most impact’ – see above.
Favourite screen hero/villain?
Hero: Eve Arden’s Ida in Mildred Pierce. Ballsy.
Who would play you in the film about your life?
I don’t care as long as Todd Haynes directs me.