History of the Awards
The first National Viewing Session was organised in 1949 and moved to the National Film Theatre, originally the Festival of Britain’s Telekinema, in 1954. It was not until 1969 that the first Film Society of the Year Awards were presented, around the same time as the English and Scottish Federations merged to form the BFFS. The first recipients were Southport Film Guild who are still going strong in their 40th season.
The Engholm Prize became part of the annual awards ceremony some years later during the 80s. The BFFS had just gone through one of its periodic financial crises that had been finally resolved by the good offices of the then-Chairman of the British Film Institute, Sir Basil Engholm. Sir Basil had been a Permanent Secretary under Sir Harold Wilson’s Government and brought his redoubtable skills to the joint meetings held between the BFI and the Federation Executive. On the successful resolution of these negotiations, it was decided to rename the top award in his honour. At the same time, John Halas, the pioneering animator and BFFS President at the time, persuaded one of his friends, a distinguished Hungarian artist, to design the Perspex trophy that the winning Society will receive today.
The format and number of awards has changed over the years with more specific categories being added. From 1972, the Kodak Community Award celebrated the outreach work being done by Societies in their local communities. In the 70s and 80s, the BFFS was also responsible for the Grierson Award which made for the best short film; recipients included Don Haworth for Fred Dibnah – Steeplejack and Lee Mishkin’s Butterfly Ball. At one time, Societies also selected a Film Society ‘Film of the Year’. The common theme over the past 37 years has been the vitality of the movement with recent winners of the ‘Best New Society’ appearing almost fully formed and going on to win the Engholm Prize just a few years later.