The British Academy Of Film And Television Arts (BAFTA) could be forgiven for resting on its laurels. Its 2008film awards were largely judged to be a hit; a mixture of international celebrity and home-grown heroes ensured anight to remember, not least in the sight of Sylvester Stallone presenting the Alexander Korda Award for bestBritish film to a chuffed Shane Meadows forThis Is England.
The Bafta acting choices of Marion Cotillard, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tilda Swinton and Javier Bardem perfectly prefaced the Oscars. A modest showing for the much-nominated Atonement and the unexpected dominance of La Vie En Rose brought a welcome element of surprise to the evening.
‘We were very pleased with how it all went but we are not complacent,’ explains Finola Dwyer, chair of the BAFTA film committee. ‘We have our own post-mortem on the show and meet with the distributors and address ways we can build on that success. We pushed (back) the first round voting date by a few days to provide as much chance as possible for films released in December and into January.’
What does ‘British’ mean’
BAFTA has just settled on a new three-year deal with the BBC for the UK television transmission of the award. It is in the twelfth year of its sponsorship deal with telecoms company Orange, which has been most conspicuous in the creation of the Orange Rising Star Award. Recipients of the award - the only one to be decided by public vote - have included James McAvoy, Eva Green and most recently Shia LaBeouf.
The BAFTAs will return to the Royal Opera House in London’s Covent Garden on February 8, 2009 with a number of announcements due in the next few weeks about a new short film initiative, extended use of the red carpet area and the name of the 2009 host.
UK television personality Jonathan Ross has hosted the last two ceremonies but may be considered too hot to handle this year following a three-month suspension by the BBC in the wake of controversy over an ill-advised radio show prank. ‘We will announce the host in the next few weeks,’ advises Dwyer.
The one thing that will not change in 2009 is the absence of a specific category for documentaries. Touching The Void won the Alexander Korda Award in 2003 but it is UK documentaries such as Man On Wire, Joy Division and A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures which may fall through the cracks.
‘We are not in a position to add an extra award to the 24 we already have,’ Dwyer insists, ‘but the issue has not gone off the agenda. We will absolutely revisit it and there are a lot of members and people on the committee who are very passionate about feature documentaries.’
BAFTA has also given some consideration to the Alexander Korda Award for the best British feature. The anomaly at the 2008 awards of Atonement winning best film but not best British film, for which it was also nominated (that award went to This Is England), has not been lost on the film committee.
‘We have given that a lot of discussion and we have reverted back to calling that award the outstanding British film of the year rather than the best British film,’ she explains. ‘When the Korda was first conceived it was for the outstanding British film. It is a fairly subtle distinction but I think it will help to differentiate.
‘In terms of the way the category encompasses blockbusters and more independent films I think that has always been the case. Even if you look back to the years when the Korda was more in the gift of the committee it has always had some bigger films and smaller films. The year of Shadowlands (1993) for example, there was also Naked so it has always tended to have that mix.’
A foreign accent
Beyond a lengthy list of UK contenders from The Duchessto Hunger and Happy-Go-Lucky, the interesting question for this year’s Bafta film awards may be whether the success of La Vie En Rose and The Lives Of Othersmarks any permanent shift in voting tastes. A number of US heavyweights faltered last year as European success stories flourished. Matteo Garrone’s critically acclaimed Gomorrahand Uli Edel’s The Baader Meinhof Complex might look to benefit this year.
Dwyer does not detect an increase in the intensity of campaigning this year but acknowledges the star-laden London Film Festival has been a crucial component in the number of Q&A sessions aimed at Bafta voters. Campaigners thus far have included Angelina Jolie for Changeling, Anne Hathaway and Jonathan Demme for Rachel Getting Married, Ron Howard and Michael Sheen for Frost/Nixon, Darren Aronofksy and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler and Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire.
‘Right now, my concern is urging the membership to take the opportunity to attend screenings, attend the Q&A sessions and see as many films as possible on a cinema screen,’ says Dwyer.