Nick Fraser, the internationally renowned documentary executive, received the Special Award at the 2017 Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards
The following is an extract from the official 2017 Virgin TV British Academy Television Awards brochure. Our press release announcing the news can be found here.
Huge piles of VCRs and DVDs sit precariously around the house as Nick Fraser ploughs through them, trying to find the best, most gripping and thought-provoking documentaries he can. “I can no longer recall how many thousands of films I have seen,” he says. “The irony is that for a long time I didn’t really like them.”
His epiphany came when he watched the landmark documentary Hoop Dreams in 1994, about two black inner-city Chicago teenagers, both very gifted at basketball, who are recruited into a predominantly white school with mixed fortunes.
I realised I’d embarked on a new quest – for the perfect non-fiction story
It was at this point he became editor of Storyville (circa 1997), a BBC strand of documentaries, and started to make his mark commissioning and executive producing films from all over the world. “I realised I’d embarked on a new quest – for the perfect non-fiction story,” he recalled in The Guardian in 2016. He has since commissioned and funded films that have, between them, gone on to win five BAFTAs, four Oscars, 15 Griersons, three Peabodys, and three International Emmys.
Like so many of those working behind the scenes in television, he beavers away in the background, spending interminable days listening to pitches, uncovering stories and nurturing talented young filmmakers, helping to hone their narratives, identify gems and bring them to a wider audience.
Many of the docs that Fraser is most proud to have worked on are those that have had the toughest messages, such as Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), about the US military’s use of torture in Afghanistan; Project Nim (2011), about a chimp who was treated as a human; and The House I Live In (2012), about mass incarceration in the United States.
Without these new voices, we would not be able to find these stories
Encountering filmmakers at film festivals across the world, from Incheon to Johannesburg to Guangzhou, and finding these obscure tales is hugely rewarding. But this evening, Fraser’s contribution to factual filmmaking is being recognised with the Special Award. “I’m really grateful to BAFTA for this award, and hopefully it will make people look again at docs,” says Fraser. “BAFTA does a lot to encourage young people to get into making television, and that’s really important. Without these new voices, we would not be able to find these stories.”
Much of Fraser’s role as commissioning editor and executive producer has been to fund documentaries, using money from the BBC and clubbing together with other broadcasters to raise the necessary funds.
Documentaries are an inexpensive, vital part of public television
Fraser is proud that, despite their original broadcast slot on less populated channels, such as BBC4 for Storyville, his films have regularly picked up some of the highest ratings on iPlayer. “Documentaries are an inexpensive, vital part of public television. Television channels should get to love them more, instead of consigning them to poor slots, as an afterthought.”
It’s a form of storytelling he continues to love and support. “My life has been spoiled by docs,” he says. “I cannot deal with most fictional representations anymore – because reality seems too interesting.”
Words by Isabelle Fraser | Images courtesy of Rex Shutterstock