Aspiring film maker singled out by industry heavyweights John Hurt, Paul Greengrass and Mat Whitecross unite to select winner of Virgin Media Shorts 2011

An up-and-coming film maker was celebrating last night after being selected as the winner of Virgin Media Shorts; the UK’s biggest short film competition.

Jason Wingard from Manchester walked away with the Grand Prize after his film 2:20 was chosen by a judging panel including John Hurt CBE, Paul Greengrass (director of The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93, Green Zone) and Mat Whitecross (director of Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll, The Road to Guantanamo, Ashes).

He was presented with his prize of £30,000 funding towards his next film project at a star studded awards ceremony at the British Film Institute on London’s Southbank. The event was attended by a host of stars including Wuthering Heights actress Kaya Scodelario, Submarine actor Craig Roberts, Attack the Block star Jodie Whittaker, The Hour actress Vanessa Kirby and her Great Expectations co-star Douglas Booth. Downton Abbey actresses Joanne Froggatt and Laura Carmichael were also in attendance at the event that was hosted by author and presenter Danny Wallace. Guests were in a celebratory mood, enjoying a champagne reception before the ceremony, after which they danced the night away to music from Paloma Faith, singer Alice Russell and DJ’s Crispin Dior and Rob da Bank.

Jason’s film 2:20 is his second attempt to win the competition, as last year he won the People’s Choice Award with Bus Baby (co-directed with Gino Evans), as voted for by the public. Shot over three nights in the ‘Curry Mile’ in Manchester, 2:20 follows the story of a young man who is given two minutes and twenty seconds to work out why he is handed a pair of broken glasses by a mysterious woman on the street. Jason recalls meeting an array of colourful characters whilst shooting the film overnight; referencing one woman whom he paid £1.75 after she refused to move out of shot. Ironically he says she received the highest payment throughout the process: the entire cast and crew worked for free!

Jason said: “I am so happy to be named the winner of Virgin Media Shorts 2011 – second time lucky! Winning the People’s Choice Award last year was fantastic but it whetted my appetite for more so to win the Grand Prize is phenomenal. I’ve seen how this competition can open doors for film makers, and am delighted that my work has been given the seal of approval by the likes of John Hurt – it is a true honour.”

Cindy Rose, Director of Digital Entertainment at Virgin Media said: “Virgin Media Shorts is all about offering a platform to film makers trying to break into what is notoriously a difficult industry, so as judges we all take a significant amount of time to assess each entrant. Jason Wingard demonstrated real vision and expertise in 2:20 – a truly deserving winner.

John Hurt said: “I’ve always been a huge advocate of independent film. The breadth of talent displayed in this year’s entrants was extraordinary which made it a very difficult but nonetheless enjoyable task judging the entrants. For me, 2:20 is a really neat idea, beautifully realised. I’m looking forward to seeing what Jason does next.”

In addition to £30,000 funding for his next project, Jason will make the film hand in hand with experts from the Film Fund at the BFI – a practice that has certainly helped previous winners break into the industry. 2010 winner Oscar Sharp has just wrapped shooting on The Karman Line, the film he’s making with his winnings, starring Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur, Peep Show) with award-winning Robbie Ryan (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) as Director of Photography. Luke Snellin won Virgin Media Shorts in 2009 with his film Mixtape, and went on to be nominated for a BAFTA. Since his win, Luke’s career has gone from strength to strength; he recently showcased his new film Disco (funded by his prize money) on the international film circuit, winning awards including Best Screenplay at the LA New Wave International Film Festival earlier this year. Luke is now writing his first feature film at the age of 25.

This year’s People’s Choice Award (£2,000 worth of film equipment) went to directors Micheal O’Donoghue, Soulla Josephides and Ying Hui Tan for their animation InaniMate about a loveable alien looking for companionship. The first ever Tivo® Award as voted for by Virgin Media customers via their set top box, went to Federico Forcolini for Coasting. Each of the 12 shortlisted films are currently being showcased to millions of people across the country through four distribution channels, including cinemas nationwide (across the Picturehouse network and independents), on TV (via Virgin Media’s Movies On Demand and an app for Virgin Media’s TiVo® Service), on mobile and online.

Paul Greengrass said: “As a judge on this year’s panel for Virgin Media Shorts, I’ve spent a great deal of time watching the entries and have been overwhelmed by the level of skill out there. I’ve experienced first-hand just how difficult it is to achieve cut through in such a competitive industry and I really admire those with the tenacity to get out there and make it happen. 2:20 has great cinematic appeal and is a fantastic example of a film that evokes great depth of feeling in a short period of time – the craftsmanship was very impressive.