With a change in eligibility rules, Bafta’s organisers are hoping that smaller films will benefit in certain key categories.
After a number of tweaks to its awards and voting process over the last few years — particularly in the outstanding British film category — the mantra behind this year’s edition of the EE Bafta Film Awards is largely, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The ceremony will take place on February 14, retaining its usual slot two weeks ahead of the Oscars. Stephen Fry hosts once again and, for the 10th year in a row, London’s Royal Opera House will provide the venue.
With a boost in TV ratings last year — the show peaked at more than 5 million viewers when it aired in the UK on BBC1 and went out to 165 territories around the world (more deals are reportedly being done for this year) — the ceremony will also continue to air with a two-hour time lapse.
“We’re constantly looking at what’s happening in the industry and how we stay relevant.” - Emma Baehr, Bafta
This is despite suggestions that, in the age of social media, a live broadcast might attract more viewers.
“At the moment, the BBC are really happy with the 9pm Sunday night slot, but we will continue to talk to them about it and we will decide year on year,” says Bafta’s director of awards Emma Baehr. “It will happen. But it needs to be at the right time.”
Baehr works closely with Bafta chief executive Amanda Berry and head of film Jim Bradshaw to make sure the event remains relevant in an already packed awards calendar.
While a one-off clash with the Directors Guild of America awards last year meant Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson were unable to pick up their Baftas in person, the number of A-list nominees in the room was still impressive.
It’s an indication that the top talent view the Baftas as a key part of their awards campaign, especially as the ceremony is the last big one ahead of the Oscars.
“They like coming to the UK and the Royal Opera House is an incredible asset,” says Bradshaw. “We get the sense from distributors that a Bafta is held in very high regard.”
Even the inevitable British rain on the night adds a certain charm to the proceedings — and gives Bafta sponsor EE the perfect opportunity to bring out the branded umbrellas. Last year was uncharacteristically dry, no doubt because the team had for the first time erected a roof over the red carpet.
This year, there will be an extra emphasis on the run-up to the ceremony in what the team is calling “Bafta week”. As well as a glitzy nominees dinner and Film Gala — last year’s inaugural event in aid of Bafta’s Give Something Back campaign raised $375,000 (£250,000) — Bafta will also open its Piccadilly headquarters to the public for a special exhibition called ‘For The Love of Film’, celebrating different crafts across the industry.
“This year there is a wide range of films still getting buzz, which makes it more exciting.” - Jim Bradshaw, Bafta
Bafta will also be making the most of the wealth of film talent descending on London from around the world to host a series of masterclasses and Q&As.
One change this year is to Bafta’s eligibility rules. Whereas previously films had only to have screened in a single cinema for seven days to be eligible, from this year films must have screened in 10 cinemas for seven days (except in the foreign language, documentary and outstanding debut categories, where the lower limit still applies).
It is an interesting decision to place a greater emphasis on a theatrical release in an age of growing digital consumption. The number of films viewed online by Bafta voters, for example, increases year on year, while online voting has been a staple part of the process now for 10 years.
“It’s something we are mindful of, and we will see how it works this year and review it again with our film committee after the awards,” says Baehr. “But we wanted to get back to the idea that it’s the films that have really connected with the public which are the ones dominating in the awards.”
Vote of confidence
Meanwhile documentaries will, for the first time, have the choice of just entering best documentary (as opposed to best film as well). It is hoped the change will not only benefit smaller-scale documentaries wanting a more focused campaign, but also encourage distributors to be more selective about the films they submit for each category.
With only 187 films entered for best film this year compared to 292 last year, the move seems to have worked.
“It’s a positive thing to reduce the number of films in contention,” says Bradshaw. “There has been a tendency for distributors to put in everything they’ve released. That doesn’t help anybody. We want people to be more selective about what they think our voters should be considering.”
The nominations are announced on January 8 and the winners are looking as unpredictable as the UK weather.
“We are already seeing very little overlap in the awards that are coming through at the end of the festival season, whereas usually you start to see the same films. This year there is a wide range of films still getting buzz, which makes it more exciting,” says Bradshaw.
The most talked about prize of the night will likely to be the outstanding British film category. Like last year there will be six nominations, three of which are voted for by a jury and three by members, in a bid to ensure the nominations represent the spectrum of UK film-making.
It’s that very breadth — which means that Cinderella and Spectre could sit alongside indie hopefuls including Brooklyn, 45 Years, The Lobster, Ex_Machina and Macbeth — that can result in controversial winners such as the studio-funded Gravity, which triumphed in 2014 (The Theory Of Everything won in 2015).
But for an awards ceremony that aims to shine a spotlight on UK talent in the wider international arena (unlike the BIFAs for example, which celebrates only UK independent film-making), Bafta believes Gravity was a perfect winner.
“A lot of people weren’t even aware the people making some of the key decisions on Gravity were British, so we were able to shine a light on that fact and celebrate those British elements,” explains Bradshaw. “We have categories specifically for British films, but we are in the fortunate position of having lots of Brits in the other categories as well. British talent is right at the forefront of amazing film-making, and therefore that puts us at the forefront of what’s great film.”
However eventful the night, there is one guarantee: the awards team will be in the office the following morning for the debrief process, albeit with one or two sore heads.
“We have to, because there’s so much to be done,” says Baehr. “We’re constantly looking at how we can do things differently, what’s happening in the industry and how we stay relevant. It’s about looking ahead and staying ahead of the game.”