The British Urban Film Festival (BUFF) was formed in July 2005 to showcase urban independent cinema in the absence of any such state-sponsored activity in the UK.
Supported by filmmakers and British actors, the organisation was set up by Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe and established as BUFF Enterprises Ltd.
The London-based organisation was initially created in partnership with organisations like The Screen.Biz (UK) and The Hip-Hop Association (USA) to mobilise & develop young, up and coming homegrown British urban talent in the independent film & TV sector. With offices in Greater London, the company has also devised projects including ‘The Search for BUFF’, a reality-TV-talent contest designed to find people who ‘look buff’ who are then ‘appointed’ as ambassadors to promote the annual British Urban Film Festival. Filmed on location across the UK, the pilot was screened at the headquarters of ITV in London’s South Bank and made its Christmas Day broadcast debut on BEN Television in December 2005. The first series aired from January – April 2006. The second series also aired on BEN Television from May – August 2007 in addition to the annual staging of the British Urban Film Festival – a unique event as it is the only one of its kind in the UK which is free to attend by the general public. Although the annual festival is free to attend, it does charge entry fees to film-makers who wish to submit their films in what is, according to Film London, ‘an important and emerging genre which is not otherwise seen regularly in the capital’s cinemas’. The Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel and The Oxford House in Bethnal Green are venues in London’s East End forming part of the 2008 festival. The Stratford Picturehouse Cinema in Newham forms part of the 2009 festival which is being supported by 3 London boroughs: Newham, Tower Hamlets and Redbridge. The 2009 festival is also notable for its screening of ‘Disoriented Generation’, a privately financed UK independent film co-produced by and starring actor Wil Johnson (who also appears in the short film Colour Blind also premiering at the festival).
The 2010 festival marked BUFF’s 5th anniversary with the screening of ‘Sus’, based on the original stageplay written by Barrie Keeffe and starring Clint Dyer (who also co-produced the movie), Rafe Spall (who went onto star in the BBC 2 drama series ‘The Shadow Line’, Ralph Brown (‘Withnail and I’, ‘Huge’) and Anjela Lauren Smith (‘Babymother’, 24 Hours in London). Other high-profile screenings included rare video footage of N-Dubz in ‘The Way We Were’ and ‘Bad Day’, starring Claire Goose, Robbie Gee & Sarah Harding.
The 2011 festival is being headlined by the UK premiere of ‘David is Dying’ at London’s Trade Union Congress headquarters and stars Lonyo Engele, a former UK garage music artist in his debut acting role.
April 2012 will mark the festival’s return to television for the first time in 5 years with the launch of “BUFF Presents…” a strand of films previously screened at the British Urban Film Festival including ‘Drink, Drugs, & KFC’ directed by actor Aml Ameen and ‘Before they were Dubz’, a feature-length documentary which followed the UK Hip-Hop group N-Dubz when they first started out as teenagers over a decade ago. Directed by film journalist Jessie Grace Mellor, the documentary will have its broadcast premiere on Community Channel alongside other films including ‘The Holiday’, directed by Ida Akesson, and ‘Special Delivery’ directed by Geoff Searle. “BUFF Presents…” is slated to return for a second season in October 2012.
October 12, 2012 will mark the return of the British Urban Film Festival at London’s Trade Union Congress headquarters to be presented by actor Wil Johnson. The 2-day event (which is free to attend) will also host a 12-hour marathon of short films, documentaries, feature-length dramas plus Q&A sessions on October 13 at Oxford House in Bethnal Green.
January 2013 will mark another milestone when BUFF becomes the first film festival in the UK to screen a sample of its festival selections via the BBC iplayerplatform in conjunction with Community Channel.
March 2013 will mark the launch of the inaugural BUFF Spring Season. The concept brings together an array of film programming “online, on-air and in person” in conjunction with ITV, Grime Daily, Genesis Cinema and The British Blacklist.com.
On 2 May 2013 it was announced that the publisher-broadcaster Channel 4 would be hosting the opening 3 events of the 8th annual British Urban Film Festival at the company’s headquarters in Horseferry Road, Central London. In addition, the festival (5–9 September) was to be headlined by the UK premiere screenings of “Calloused Hands” starring Andre Royo from the HBO series “The Wire”, “Traveller” starring David Essex OBE, Jason Maza & Lois Winstone & the award-winning “Bloody Lip” written & directed by Adriel Leff. Coverage was hosted from Odeon West End in Leicester Square by actress Zawe Ashton (“Dreams of a Life”/”Fresh Meat (TV series)”). Actor Riz Ahmed (“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”/”Four Lions”/”Ill Manors”/”Shifty (film)”) was among the official festival ambassadors. On 25 December 2013 it was announced that Channel 4 will be hosting the opening 3 events of the 9th annual British Urban Film Festival in September 2014, ensuring that they “continue to seek out the very best creative voices. Voices that represent the diversity and cultural richness of contemporary British life.”
On 7 July 2014 it was announced that “The Trials of Muhammad Ali” is to premiere in the UK as part of the 2014 British Urban Film Festival. Two gala screenings are scheduled to take place at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square (4 September) and the Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel (7 September). It was also announced that the Sky Sports boxing pundit Spencer Fearon is to present the opening night gala in London’s West End.
On 13 August 2014, it was announced that BUFF will screen 2 film festival selections for the first time on network television with the terrestrial premieres of “Driftwood” & “Sunny Boy” on Channel 4 as part of the Shooting Gallery short film strand. Overnight figures (released on 26 August 2014) revealed that 120,000 viewers tuned in to the 25 August broadcast.
On 14 November 2014, it was announced that Channel 4 will be hosting the opening 3 events of the 10th British Urban Film Festival in 2015.
On 21 November 2014, The inaugural BUFF Africa Season was officially launched at the headquarters of The Africa Channel International in Central London where it was announced at that BUFF will screen the world premiere of “Mum, Dad meet Sam” at the Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel on Saturday 6 December. The film stars Joseph Benjamin (actor), Afolabi Dasaolu (a.k.a. ‘ADOT’), Daniella Down, Helen Gold, Edith Nwekenta & Anthony Ofoegbu. BUFF Africa Season climaxes with the world premiere of ‘Maasai: 10th lost tribe of Israel’ (directed by Dante Montaganani) at Oxford House in Bethnal Green.
On 26 January 2015, it was announced that the BAFTA award-winning producer Damian Jones was appointed to the board of the British Urban Film Festival.
On 2 March 2015, it was announced that the award-winning writers of Run (TV series) Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan & Marlon Smith were appointed as script judges for the British Urban Film Festival.
On 1 April 2015, it was announced that the first ever British Urban Film Festival awards (supported by Channel 4) will take place in London on Thursday 17 September.
On 5 June 2015, it was announced that the award-winning film & TV producer Charlie Hanson was the latest industry figure appointed as a patron to the board of the British Urban Film Festival.
0n 21 August 2015, London Live (TV Channel) will begin screening films previously shown by the British Urban Film Festival in a 2-year broadcast deal.
As part of the festival’s 10th anniversary in September 2015, Abrantee Boateng Capital Xtra & Larushka Ivan-Zadeh Metro (British newspaper) will be hosting BUFF’s first ever awards ceremony at the Cinema Museum (London). The 2015 British Urban Film Festival will also screen 4 UK premieres at the Genesis Cinema in Whitechapel including “That Daughter’s Crazy” starring Rain Pryor, “Lapse of Honour” starring Lady Leshurr, Louis Emerick and Gary Mcdonald (actor), Brash Young Turks starring Julian Glover and “Invisible Men” starring Abrantee Boateng.
On 8 October 2015, the festival announced the addition of 2 script judges and 8 new BUFF patrons including the BAFTA award-winning actor Adam Deacon, Femi Oyeniran and director Mo Ali.
On 27 January 2016, highlights of the British Urban Film Festival awards were broadcast on Sky (United Kingdom) and Freeview via Showcase TV.
On 18 April 2016, the festival announced the appointment of Adeyinka Akinrinade as its new festival director succeeding Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe who was festival director from 2005 – 2015.
On 25 April 2016, it was announced that the 2016 British Urban Film Festival will be hosted at Odeon Cinemas in Camden Town and Swiss Cottage from 14–20 September.
On 9 May 2016, it was announced that actor Wil Johnson is to receive the highest honour at the 2016 British Urban Film Festival Awards on Sunday 18 September.
On 10 May 2016, it was announced that London Live will continue to screen films c/o the British Urban Film Festival free-to-air until 2018.
On 16 May 2016, it was announced that Adam Deacon & Femi Oyeniran are to host the 2016 British Urban Film Festival Awards from Hilton Hotel Tower Bridge. It was also announced that Heather Small former lead singer of M People is to be the headline act.
On 30 May 2016, the British Urban Film Festival came top of a global list of diverse film festivals worthy of attending in 2016. The festival came ahead of 4 American film festivals and was published on the website of Metro (British newspaper).
On 7 June 2016, it was announced that Colourful Radio signed an exclusive deal to provide live outside broadcasts of the BUFF 2016 press conference and Script Reading competition from Channel 4 headquarters.
On 4 July 2016, it was announced that ‘To Dream’ is to open the 2016 British Urban Film Festival at the Odeon Cinemas in Camden Town. The film stars Ed Hayter, Freddie Thorp, Diana Vickers and Adam Deacon.
On 14 July 2016, it was announced that BBC Films is to sponsor the BUFF Awards 2016 (in the “best emerging talent” category), the showpiece event in its annual British Urban Film Festival.
On 21 July 2016, it was announced that ‘Residential’, a London-based Yardie drama is to close the 2016 British Urban Film Festival at the Odeon Cinemas in Swiss Cottage. Former Radio 1 disc jockey Chris Goldfinger is amongst the movie’s producers.
On 8 September 2016, it was announced that Trace Urban is to sponsor the BUFF Awards 2016 in the “best movie” category. It was also announced that Ghanaian hip-hop star Fuse ODG is to attend the ceremony along with Trace CEO Olivier Laouchez to present the “best movie” award.
On 7 November 2016, the festival announced the appointment of 4 new BUFF patrons and 1 new BUFF script judge. The line-up includes actors Arnold Oceng & Wil Johnson, award-winning director Jesse Quinones, award-winning producer Cass Pennant and producer/screenwriter Michelle Blake.
On 26 May 2017, the festival announced that telecommunications giant BT is to sponsor the 2017 British Urban Film Festival and Awards. The sponsorship also gives BT rights to share the broadcast of the BUFF Awards on BT.com, exclusive rights to host both events at BT Tower and the opportunity to screen films acquired from BUFF on the BT TV store platform.
In a statement released by BT, Tony Singh, Business Affairs and Business Development Director, BT TV said: “We are delighted to be working with the British Urban Film Festival.
“It is leading the way in celebrating diversity in film, and as the UK’s fastest growing TV platform, this is a great festival we are proud to support.
“Our famous BT Tower, which has long been a part of TV broadcasting in the UK, will be the home of BUFF, and will allow film fans to enjoy the movies and experience the unique views across London.”
On 29 June 2017, the festival announced that actor Ashley Walters is to be honoured at the BT BUFF Awards for a career spanning 25 years on stage, on TV and in film.
In a statement released by BUFF, Emmanuel Anyiam-Osigwe, CEO and founder said: “I’m absolutely delighted that Ashley Walters is to receive the 2017 honorary award. Ashley is one of the UK’s most famous faces in a career which has already clocked up 25 years. It has been an incredible 25 years which has seen Ashley star in some of the most iconic TV shows and movies ever made – from Top Boy to Grange Hill, Bullet Boy to Get Rich or Die Trying, it is an unrivalled list of credits which, if you include all the stage plays plus his work as a recording artist, demonstrates his relentless work ethic, the sheer breadth of quality and the massive admiration that I have for him as a trailblazer. The UK should be very very proud of Ashley. He is one of our very best and his career is to be savoured by all who live and breathe the acting game”.
It was also announced that the movie Free in Deed starring David Harewood is to open the BT British Urban Film Festival (6-12 September) at BT Tower on Wednesday 6 September.