Nik Powell

As we head to Morocco to partner the National Film and Television School's major international screenwriting programme, we asked NFTS head Nik Powell to reveal the films and people that kickstarted his career in cinema.

  • Nik Powell

Nik Powell

What’s your connection to the British Council?

My connection with British Council goes back a good 30 years. Often when invited to speak or be on a jury or do a workshop at festivals, Film Schools or events around the world from Korea and China to Moscow and Marrakech, I would find out on arrival that British Council has made it all possible. Their screenings to festival programmers of both my films and the films of NFTS students and graduates has often meant that films that might not have gotten seen by the senior programmers of the big festivals might not have been seen at all. They have also supported those same films at British Council's own British Film Festivals around the world. I have also been lucky enough to partner with British Council on projects ranging from NFTS making some cool documentaries with the great Russian school VCIG (the oldest film school in the world) to our current Regards Croises writers' workshop. See next question for more about this...

What’s your current project?
With British Council, Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Ecole Supèrieure des Arts Visuels in Marrakech and our French partner Elise Reberioux, we are working on Regards Croises writers' workshop  which takes place this year in Edinburgh and Marrakech. It’s a long established workshop now in its 14th year which is a coming together of young writers and teachers from UK, North Africa and France, to develop scripts and stories for cinema and to pitch them to the industry at the end of the workshop. Several excellent films have come directly from this workshop. Personally, the biggest thing I am working on is pulling together the second phase of the development of the NFTS which will cost £13 million. It's urgent as many of our buildings at our NFTS Beaconsfield studios have had almost no investment since they were built in 1921(!) – older than Pinewood or Shepperton or Elstree. They are so old it’s a wonder we have the success we have! Our students have been nominated for an Oscar 3 times in the last 8 years; they have won the Student Oscar more times than any other Film School in the world and again this year! Our recent graduates won the Camera D’Or in Cannes this year as well  the Sutherland Award for best debut film at the Londo Film Festival while our older graduates received 10 Oscar and BAFTA nominations earlier this year. So sometimes people ask why I need them to invest. But I tell them if you want continued success you have to invest in it!  As Chair of the BAFTA Film Committee I am also busy  with next year’s BAFTA Film awards and also with the European Film Awards which take place in December when I step down from the board of EFA after almost two decades.

What/who originally turned you onto film?
In the broad sense I have to say it was the producer Stephen Woolley who was also my partner in Palace Pictures and Scala. Until I met Stephen I was a rock ‘n roll music person and populist cinema goer. I could list all the late Kevin Coyn’s songs or Devo’s albums but nothing from outside the mainstream of cinema apart from the french gangster film Borsalino. Stephen introduced me to the real width and depth and wonder of cinema and the many genres and he introduced me to Cinema from around the world at the relatively old age of 30! (me that is!)

What has been your career high so far?
I am lucky/old enough to have had a few (and quite a few lows too!)  but I would say when Crying Game was nominated for six Oscars at exactly the same time that Palace was filing for bankruptcy! Talk about a moment when the stars were in direct collision.

What was your first job in the film industry?
My first job in the film business was being appointed director of the NFTS! Before that I had never even been interviewed for a job let alone had one. My job before that was working on a chicken farm at age 15. Between then and the NFTS I always had my own company which was lucky as I don’t think anyone would have given me a job! Now I do have a job at last I realise what I have been missing…

If I knew then what I know now…
I think the single two most important qualities for success are guts and a street intelligence. I always quote the Roman philosopher Seneca ‘It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare, that things are difficult.’

What is your favourite British film?
Any of the great British comedies from I’m alright Jack to Life of Brian. Because they are very funny – in a way which reflects us Brits brilliantly…If I had to choose it would be Life of Brian.

If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be?
There are so many one hates to choose. As I write this almost any film by Billy Wilder preferably wriiten by Ben Hecht or any of the pictures that really changed me and maybe the world…Battle of Algiers comes to mind but I would be equally happy being involved in Bambi.

What’s the first film you remember seeing?
Bambi probably and the death of Bambi’s mother (or was it father!). When I was asked recently what was the most frightening film I’d ever seen I had to say it was Bambi! And the most tragic. But I was pretty young at the time and its because its amongst first films I saw that its so memorable. The other was the Bridge over the River Kwai simply because my mother forbid myself and my younger brother to see it while taking my elder brother and sister. I just could not wait to grow up! When I did manage to see it at the Guildford Odeon…

What’s your favourite line or scene from a film?
It’s the line spoken by the character Dil  in the Crying Game “Details Baby,details" written by Neil Jordan of course. In one line / one conversation it for me it sums up the essence of Neil’s wonderful film even though I know I am conflicted!

  • Fergus: Do they know?
    Dil: Know what, honey?
    Fergus: Know what I didn't know? And don't call me that.
    Dil: Can't help it! A girl has her feelings.
    Fergus: Thing is, Dil, you're not a girl.
    Dil: Details, baby, details.
    Fergus: So they do know?
    Dil: Alright, they do.
    Fergus: Don't. I should've known, shouldn't I?
    Dil: Probably.
    Fergus: Kind of wish I didn't.
    Dil: You can always pretend.
    Fergus: That's true. Your soldier knew, didn't he?
    Dil: Absolutely.

Favourite screen kiss?
Can't remember! But if you ask about sex scenes then the opening of Jean Jacques Beineix's Betty Blue - but I haven't seen the Cannes winner yet [Blue is the Warmest Colour] let alone Lars Von Triers' latest!

Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain?
There is a poster on my wall of Jean Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon in the 7O's french gangster film Borsalino which was myself and my then partner's favourite film at the beginning of my career as Belmondo and Delon's characters in the film  (like my then partner and I) had grown up together and as two young men tried to turn their world upside dowm. They were both heros and villains. The film itself is not a cinematic masterpiece except for me at the time!

Who would play you in the film about your life?
If it was the first part of my adult life probably Daniel Bruhl if he could do my accent which I'm sure he could. I am huge fan of his very special talent. Or if he was not available Michael Sheen as he is brilliant at acting real life characters - actually he is brilliant full stop!