The 2021 British Documentary Awards Shortlist!

The shortlist for the 2021 British Documentary Awards has been announced! Taking place on 10 November this year, the Grierson Awards recognise and celebrate documentaries (from Britain and abroad) that have made a significant contribution to nonfiction cinema and “demonstrate quality, integrity, creativity, originality and overall excellence”. 


"Following a truly challenging year, I'm delighted to announce such a diverse and engaging shortlist, celebrating some of the most outstanding and impactful factual programmes screened in the past 12 months,” says Lorraine Heggessey, Chair of The Grierson Trust. “I am also thrilled that the 2021 shortlist continues our trend in representing the biggest range of channels, broadcasters and platforms, as commissioners recognise the crucial role the documentary plays in every schedule."


This year there are also two new award categories – Best Music and Best Sports Documentary. Nominees include films about  boxing, football, athletics, snooker and the Paralympics with musical influences ranging from Tina Turner and Fela Kuti to Billie Eilish and BLACKPINK.


Many of the films nominated have featured in the last few months of “awards season”. For example, Oscar winner, My Octopus Teacher, is up for best Single Documentary (International) and best Natural History or Environmental Documentary. Welcome To Chechnya has been nominated for best Single Documentary (International) and best Current Affairs Documentary.


Meanwhile, Tina has been nominated for best Single Documentary (International) and best Music Documentary, Collective has been nominated for Best Single Documentary (International), Athlete A has been nominated for Best Sports Documentary and Dick Johnson is Dead has been nominated for Best Entertaining Documentary.


Looking at the platforms with nominations, the BBC tops the shortlist with 47 entries overall. Netflix has 21 films in the running; ITV has eight; Sky, nine and Channel 4 has 10 in the mix. Apple TV+ has six films listed. Al Jazeera, Vice, PSB International, Discovery and S4C all have one each while the remainder is made up of festival and university screenings alongside theatrical releases.


The 112 shortlisted films (I will include links to the docs that I have reviewed) and eight presenters will now go forward to final nominations, which will be announced on 20 September.


The Shortlist!

Envy Best Single Documentary - Domestic

2020: The Story of Us Docsville Studios — ITV

Can Sex Offenders Change? Blakeway North — BBC iPlayer

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet Silverback Films & WWF Production — Netflix

Defending Digga D Lambent Productions — BBC Three

Katie Price: Harvey and Me Minnow Films — BBC One

Leigh-Anne Pinnock: Race, Pop & Power Dragonfly Film & Television Production — BBC Three

Locked In: Breaking the Silence Marble Films – BBC Four

Nail Bomber: Manhunt Expectation — Netflix


Molinare Best Single Documentary – International

Boys State Apple, A24, Concordia Studio & Mile End Films – Apple TV+

Collective: Unravelling a Scandal Alexander Nanau Production – BBC Four

Father Soldier Son A Netflix Original Documentary & A New York Times Production — Netflix

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds Apple, Sandbox Films, Dogwoof, Hot Docs, Spring Films & Werner Herzog Films – Apple TV+

My Octopus Teacher A Netflix Original Documentary in association with Off the Fence & The Sea Change Project – Netflix

The Three Deaths of Marisela Escobedo (Las Tres Muertes de Marisela Escobed) A Vice Studios Latin America & Scopio Production – Netflix

Tina Lightbox – Sky Documentaries

Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge Public Square Films – BBC Four


Best Current Affairs Documentary

Al Jazeera Investigations: The Cyprus Papers Undercover Al Jazeera Media Network — Al Jazeera

Exposure: America's War on Abortion Fuuse Films – ITV

In Cold Blood Darlow Smithson Productions – ITV

Inside the Battle for Jerusalem VICE News — Vice

Return From ISIS: A Family’s Story Mongoose – BBC iPlayer

Totally Under Control Jigsaw Productions – BBC Two

Undercover in the Schools that Chain Boys BBC News Arabic Documentaries – BBC Arabic

Welcome to Chechnya: The Gay Purge Public Square Films – BBC Four


Storm Best Arts Documentary

African Apocalypse Inside Out Films & Lemkino Pictures – BBC Two

Cold War Steve Meets the Outside World CC Lab – Sky Arts

Grayson's Art Club - Episode 4 Swan Films — Channel 4

Imagine... Lemn Sissay: The Memory of Me BBC Studios, The Documentary Unit – BBC One

Keith Haring: Street Art Boy BBC Studios, The Documentary Unit – BBC Two

Maggi Hambling: Making Love with the Paint Filmwrights & Menace – BBC Two

The Painter and the Thief Sky Arts

Pepe the Frog: Feels Good Man Wavelength Productions — BBC Four


Sky Documentaries Best Music Documentary

Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell A Netflix Original Documentary — Netflix

Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry Apple, Interscope Films, The Darkroom, This Machine & Lighthouse Management & Media – Apple TV+

BLACKPINK: Light Up the Sky RadicalMedia – Netflix

Defending Digga D Lambent Productions — BBC Three

Fela Kuti: Father of Afrobeat Plimsoll Productions – BBC Two

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché Tyke Films & Poly Doc Films – Sky Arts

Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm ie productions – BBC iPlayer

Tina Lightbox – Sky Documentaries


Best Sports Documentary

Anton Ferdinand: Football, Racism and Me New Era Television & Wonder Television – BBC One

Athlete A A Netflix Original Documentary in association with Impact Partners, Artemis Rising Foundation, Meadow Fund, Dobkin Family Foundation, Chicago Media Project, Grant Me the Wisdom Productions & An Actual Films Production – Netflix

Bruno v Tyson Workerbee in association with Sky Studios – Sky Documentaries

Finding Jack Charlton Noah Media Group – BBC Two

Gods of Snooker Mindhouse – BBC iPlayer

Pelé Pitch Productions – Netflix

Rising Phoenix A Netflix Original Documentary, HTYT Films & Passion Pictures in association with Misfits Entertainment & Ventureland – Netflix

Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In DNA Films & Ventureland – Theatrical release


Channel 5 Best History Documentary

Damilola: The Boy Next Door Acme Films – Channel 4

DeLorean: Back from the Future Fired Up Films – BBC iPlayer

Fear City: New York vs The Mafia - Episode 1 A RAW & Brillstein Entertainment Partners Production — Netflix

In Cold Blood Darlow Smithson Productions – ITV

Nail Bomber: Manhunt Expectation – Netflix

Once Upon a Time in Iraq - Episode 2 KEO Films – BBC iPlayer

Silenced: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain Blast! Films – BBC Two

Subnormal: A British Scandal Rogan Productions, Lammas Park & Turbine Studios – BBC iPlayer


The Open University Best Science Documentary

25 Siblings & Me Expectation Factual – BBC Two

Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything - Episode 4 Zero Point Zero — Netflix

Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds Apple, Sandbox Films, Dogwoof, Hot Docs, Spring Films & Werner Herzog Films – Apple TV+

The Last Artifact Montana PBS & Montana State University – PBS International

Locked In: Breaking the Silence Marble Films – BBC Four

Sheridan Smith: Becoming Mum True Vision – ITV

Sudden Death: My Sister's Silent Killer Storyvault Films – BBC One

The Surgeon's Cut - Episode 1 BBC Studios — Netflix


Discovery Best Natural History or Environmental Documentary

Climate Change: Ade on the Frontline - Episode 1 BBC This World – BBC iPlayer

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet Silverback Films & WWF Production — Netflix

Endangered BBC Studios, Natural History Unit — Discovery+

Extinction: The Facts BBC Studios, The Science Unit – BBC One

My Octopus Teacher A Netflix Original Documentary in association with Off the Fence & The Sea Change Project – Netflix

Ocean Autopsy: The Secret Story of Our Seas Pioneer Productions – BBC Four 

Secret Safari: Into the Wild - Episode 1 Blast! Films — Channel 4 

Tiny World: Jungle Plimsoll Productions in association with Apple — Apple TV+ 


YouTube Originals Best Entertaining Documentary

Bank Job Optimistic & Dartmouth Films – Theatrical release

Dick Johnson is Dead A Netflix Original Documentary & A Big Mouth Productions Film – Netflix

The Dog House - Episode 4 Five Mile Films – Channel 4 

DRYCH: Chwaer Fach Chwaer Fawr DOGMA – S4C

The Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan: Christmas - The Hebrides Rumpus Media – BBC Two

The Mole: Infiltrating North Korea Piraya Film I AS – BBC iPlayer

The Mystery of DB Cooper Minnow Films – BBC Four

Undercover OAP: The Mole Agent Micromundo Producciones, Motto Pictures, Sutor Kolonko, Volya Films & Malvalanda – BBC Four


Netflix Best Documentary Series

Allen v. Farrow HBO Documentary Films in association with Impact Partners, Chicago Media Project, Artemis Rising Foundation, Jane Doe Films & The Lozen Foundation – Sky Documentaries

Baby Surgeons: Delivering Miracles Wonderhood — Channel 4

Becoming You Wall to Wall Productions in association with Apple – Apple TV+

The Detectives: Fighting Organised Crime Minnow Films — BBC iPlayer

Immigration Nation Reel Peak Films – Netflix

Once Upon a Time in Iraq KEO Films — BBC iPlayer

Pandemic 2020 KEO Films — BBC iPlayer

Room 2806: The Accusation Capa Presse – Netflix


Channel 4 Best Constructed Documentary Series

Born Without a Trace Wall to Wall Media – ITV

The Choir: Singing for Britain Twenty Twenty Productions — BBC Two

The Dog House Five Mile Films – Channel 4

Grayson's Art Club Swan Films — Channel 4

The Rap Game UK Naked – BBC Three

The Real Full Monty on Ice Spun Gold TV – ITV

Saved by a Stranger Blink Films – BBC Two

The School That Tried to End Racism Proper Content — Channel 4


The Rumi Foundation Best Documentary Short

Dafa Metti (Difficult) Tal Amiran – London Film Festival

Disciples Dazed – Dazed Digital

Everyman Bombito Productions – Glasgow Film Festival

I Still Breathe Modern Films – Sky Arts

A Love Song for Latasha A Netflix Original Documentary – Netflix

Mother Try Hard Films – London Film Festival

Take Your Knee Off My Neck: My First Time Milk and Honey Productions – Channel 4

What Would Sophia Loren Do? Artemis Rising Foundation presents A Red Light Films Production – Netflix


All3Media Best Student Documentary

Alt Er Nu (All is now) National Film and Television School Eden University of the West of England

Is It Me? University of the West of Scotland

The Scarecrows Arts University Bournemouth

Short Term Sister Goldsmiths, University of London

Tease National Film and Television School

Tough Love University of Westminster

You Girls Need to Grow Up University College London


Best Documentary Presenter

ALISON HAMMOND for Alison Hammond: Back to School ITV Studios, Daytime – ITV

CERRIE BURNELL for Silenced: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain Blast! Films — BBC Two

DAVID HAREWOOD for Why is COVID Killing People of Colour? Twenty Twenty Productions — BBC One

DR CHRIS AND DR XAND VAN TULLEKEN for Surviving the Virus: My Brother & Me Little Gem — BBC One

MICAH RICHARDS for Micah Richards: Tackling Racism Buzz16 in association with New Stance — Sky Documentaries

MICHAEL PALIN for Michael Palin's Himalaya: Journey of a Lifetime Firecrest Films — BBC Two

ROMAN KEMP for Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency Twofour — BBC Three

YINKA BOKINNI for Damilola: The Boy Next Door Acme Films — Channel 4


Grierson Hero of the Year Award

One award is still open for nominations: the new Grierson Hero of the Year category. This will be presented to an individual judged by the Trustees to have made a positive impact within the industry during the previous 12 months. This person may be working in any area and be at any level of their career. The award will be given to someone who has "gone the extra mile and made an outstanding difference". 


Nominations remain open until 4th September 2021. "Do enter your nominations for the new Hero of the Year category,” encourages Heggessey. “So often, the most significant challenges and roadblocks in filmmaking happen behind the scenes – especially given the year we’ve just had – and those solving these problems don’t always get the recognition they deserve. We want to change that. The Grierson Awards recognise the crème de la crème of documentary making – and that means in all areas. Our juries now face a summer of deliberation and I look forward to announcing the final nominations in the autumn."

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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