‘Blue Bag Life’ Filmmakers on the Addiction Documentary’s Surprise BAFTA Nomination: ‘We Feel Like the Underdogs’

There were numerous shocks and surprises among this year’s list of BAFTA nominees. Most of the headlines were dedicated to “Barbie” and its omission from both the best film and director categories, while many saw Andrew Scott’s failure be nominated for his lead role in “All of Us Strangers” an unforgivable snub.

But away from the big, buzzy studio titles with plenty of publicity-fueled firepower behind them, a small, very low-budget British documentary landed an unexpected — but very welcome — slot in the outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer category.

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A deeply personal and unflinching portrait of a life touched by addiction, “Blue Bag Life” draws on photos and videos taken over many years by the artist Lisa Selby that she had originally been posting to an Instagram account. Following the death of her estranged addict mother and her partner’s relapse and incarceration, Selby embarks on an extremely raw pilgrimage of self-discovery and salvation.

“Blue Bag Life” won the audience award at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival before releasing in the U.K. with Modern Films in April 2023. Almost a year on and, despite having little in the way of an awards campaign, the film has managed to keep the momentum going long enough to find itself among the BAFTA nominees.

“Blue Bag Life” also has a somewhat unique production story, with Rebecca Lloyd-Evans, who originally had the vision for a feature after meeting Selby through Instagram, suggesting to producer Natasha Dack Ojumu of Tigerlily Productions that they scrap the usual hierarchical structure and make it a collaborative effort. And so, Selby is listed as a co-director on the film, alongside both editor Alex Fry and Lloyd-Evans, with these three equal partners alongside co-writer Josie Cole. All five are credited as filmmakers at the start of the film, with everyone on the same fees.

As Lloyd-Evans and Dack Ojumu explain, they wanted to find a new way of working away from the classic “auteur filmmaker” model — but it was a model that came with a cost, with organizations such as BAFTA simply not set up to deal with this new type of filmmaking.

Speaking to Variety ahead of the BAFTA awards, the two discuss being “flabbergasted” on getting a nomination and how their five-person collaborative effort could manifest itself on stage if they actually win.

Was it a shock when you heard your names called out in the BAFTA nominations?

Rebecca Lloyd-Evans: We were actually the first people to be announced, because the first category was our category. And it was done alphabetically, so “Blue Bag Life was the first film to be called out. And I just thought, “OK, so we’re just going to hear all of the films.” But then it got to five and they moved on to the next category. I was sitting there with my dad and was like, “What… have we…” I was flabbergasted to say the least. It was a massive surprise — we feel like the underdogs.

It seems like this nomination was achieved with very little campaigning or resources, and you’ve kept the momentum going since the 2022 London Film Festival and its release last March. 

Lloyd-Evans: It’s just one of those films. I think it gets really good word of mouth and I think people are just blown away by the story that’s told in the film and how kind of upfront Lisa is in talking about her family history. So I think it’s getting really good word of mouth and after the cinema release, it went on to BBC iPlayer, so people have been able to access it there too.

Natasha Dack Ojumu: There are also many different themes within it, and so many people write to us saying that they connected with something, whether that’s addiction within the family or fertility complications or difficult relationships with a parent. So maybe that’s something that’s led to it having this success.

You made this film in a very unusual way, scrapping the usual hierarchy and crediting five people as filmmakers. What was the idea behind that?

Lloyd-Evans: The first time I’d worked in that way was on a podcast series that I had made with Josie Cole, who’s also part of this team. Because it was so much about her life, I really felt that she needed to have some sort of like sense of control. And it was so successful as a model, that it seemed appropriate. Lisa has never made a film before, but this is her life and she documented her life and to shut her out of that process would feel so wrong. When I brought the project to Natasha, I asked her if she’d consider making this collectively, with everyone being paid the same amount. And I was just so thankful that she didn’t even bat an eyelid and just said yes.

Dack Ojumu: I think coming out of COVID as well, I was just keen to find a new way of working. I thought a lot about how people get treated in the industry and how I wanted to work moving forward. And it just felt like the right project.

Logistically, when it comes to submitting for awards like BAFTA, does this collective approach make it more complicated in terms of which names are put down and which are announced?

Lloyd-Evans: They always get it wrong, every single time. The industry isn’t set up for collective approaches. It has to be the auteur filmmaker. It’s never one person’s vision. And especially with this project, it’s not one person’s vision. So I suppose we were just trying to lay that bare in some ways, and it sometimes comes at a cost, but mostly the benefits outweigh the cost.

And when it comes to the actual BAFTA ceremony, you’ll all get to go? 

Lloyd-Evans: We’ll all be there!

But what if you win? All of you on stage? 

Dack Ojumu: I think we’re really not expecting to win, but if we did I hope that we’d all be seen.

And all get to speak?

Lloyd-Evans: That’s something we need to work out, because obviously nobody wants to listen to five people give speeches. These things are long and boring enough already. But we’d like everyone to have visibility.

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