THE EARLY YEARS
Although Cinema For All (formerly the British Federation of Film Societies) had been organising National Viewing Sessions since 1949, it was not until 1969 that the first Film Society of the Year Awards were presented, however no ceremony was held. The first recipients were Southport Film Guild (still going strong!). In the early days, the awards themselves were presented to the winners at the nearest regional or national Viewing Session.
THE ENGHOLM PRIZE
Though the Film Society of the Year Award has been awarded since the very early years, it was not named the Engholm Prize until the early ’80s. Its namesake, Sir Basil Engholm, had been a Permanent Secretary under Harold Wilson’s government and had helped to ensure funding for BFFS during a time of crisis. At the same time, John Halas, the pioneering animator (Animal Farm) and then BFFS President, persuaded one of his friends, a distinguished Hungarian artist, to design the Perspex trophy that the winning Society still receives today.
CHANGES AND PROFILE
The format and number of awards has varied over the years with more specific categories being added, whilst some have been retired. The Community Award was introduced in 1972 to celebrate the outreach work being done by film societies in their local areas. It has gone on to be one of the most closely fought awards, with each new year informing the judges of the inspiring and innovative work volunteer-led cinemas do.
2011 saw the Best Film Education Award replace the Best Programme Notes category, in recognition of the breadth of education work that community cinemas do, and 2013 saw the (previously retired) Film Society Film of the Year prize return.
In 2015, Cinema For All introduced a brand new category, Best Single Event, to recognise and reward the outstanding immersive special events that have raised the profile of volunteer-led cinema in the UK. This award showcases some exceptional organisations and demonstrates the innovative and inspiration nature that continues to be the backbone of the film society movement.
In the past 5 years, the Best Film Education Award was renamed to the Film Discovery Award, to recognise groups who introduce audiences to new cinema through creative seasons, themed programming, film studies materials, courses, and educational talks. We also introduced the Audience Award, which is sponsored by Filmbankmedia and comes with a £1000 prize for the winner to go towards future activity.
There are now more groups than ever before, and we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the awards in 2019!