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The Bafta British debate

Gravity may indeed pass the official test at British, but is this really the kind of film the Best British Film Bafta category should be honouring?

What do you get when you put a Mexican director and two Hollywood stars in space? A British film, evidently.

Bad jokes aside, the inclusion of Gravity in Bafta’s Best British Film nominees was a major talking point on nominations day.

The Warner Bros. production (financed with US money), directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, passed the DCMS cultural test as a British film (cited in the Bafta guidelines). It does indeed have a strong British logistical pedigree – produced by David Heyman, shot at Pinewood and Shepperton, with VFX done by Framestore and 3D supervised by London-based Vision 3. It’s a great thing for the British film industry that Gravity was made here, nobody is arguing otherwise. 

But the brouhaha of Gravity’s inclusion in the Best British Film category highlights a problem with the category itself.

The very nature of having a Best British Film category alongside a Best Film category makes for some confusion – if you vote for your best film of the year and it happens to be from the UK, that logically would also be the best British film, too. But as the two categories stand now, they seem to encourage voters to split their allegiances and spread the love.

The Best British Film category is a symptom of the unusual position the Baftas find themselves in on the world stage. Obviously these awards are now seen as the pre-cursors to the Oscars and are the only non-US awards that have global importance. Yet how much are the Baftas supposed to recognise the world’s best films and how much are they supposed to laud the local industry? None of the other national awards, for example the French Cesars or Swedish Guldbagges, have this conundrum, because they aren’t trying to make an impact on a global level.

Surely UK films are at a level that they should compared against the biggest films of the year from all over the world, not ringfenced in their own category. (The exception to this rule is something like the British Short and Best Debut categories, which should absolutely be continued as a way of supporting new talents.) If Best British Film isn’t supporting more obviously homegrown work, and instead lauding the same Hollywood tentpole that is being lauded at the Oscars, what’s the point of the prize? Bafta doesn’t marginalise talents with Best British Director or Best British Actor, so why split this category?

I put the question to Bafta chief executive Amanda Berry yesterday, and she defends the category’s importance. “The British film category for us is really important,” she says. “It allows us to shine a spotlight on the full spectrum of British film… I don’t think the category confuses people, some years there is crossover [with Best Film], some years there isn’t.” She adds: “It’s an international ceremony with a British perspective.”

If the category is continued, perhaps it should become Best British Independent Film, as a way of levelling the playing field so that The Selfish Giant doesn’t have to compete with a $100m studio epic? Or as some experts in the industry suggest, a Best British Contribution to Film category, which this year could have nominated Framestore specifically for its stellar work on Gravity. [Do you have other suggestions? If so post them in the comments below.]

Absolutely the British industry should be proud for the part it has played in setting Gravity in orbit. This film would not have been made were it not for British talents, facilities, and expertise. Gravity is a hugely accomplished film and fully deserves its nominations. But should Gravity win the Bafta for British film of the year? As George Clooney’s Kowalski would say, “I have a bad feeling about this mission.”

Readers' comments (5)

  • Gravity is not a British film in the same way that Nissan is not a British car! It's not rocket science!

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  • as you say it should be best british independent film with a budget of under £5m, by the way gravity has to be one of the most overrated films in history, a rubbish script which also unbelievable snagged a nomination, cliched from start to finish, God only knows why the sheep like critics went for it, it did look good, but that was it, a film of utter tedium.

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  • Perhaps BAFTA should have a 'Made in Britain' section? After all films that don't reflect British life, culture, history or people aren't really British are they?

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  • Cinematic film provides a universal and readily accessible medium for the expression and representation of British culture and national identity. Films can help reflect, explore and challenge our diverse history, cultural beliefs and shared values. In doing so, the best British films not only help us to reach a better shared understanding of Britain and its place in the world, but are also instrumental in spreading awareness and appreciation of British culture around the world. As such, British films are an important part of our cultural heritage and a significant channel for the continuing expression and dissemination of British culture

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  • Same goes for the BIFAs. How did a film not shot in the UK or even in the English language win all the top awards? Shame on us!

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