Olivia Colman’s journey to the best actress Academy Award last year began at Venice Film Festival with her prize for The Favourite.
These occurrences help provide the connective tissue between the BIFAs and the wider awards season — echoing the role played by the Gothams and Independent Spirits in the US. On the other hand, the BIFAs — founded by Raindance Film Festival’s Elliot Grove and Suzanne Ballantyne in 1998 but now overseen by a separate charitable trust — have always ploughed a distinctive furrow, including an eligibility criterion based on festival play rather than UK cinema release.
Deena Wallace, co-director of BIFA with Amy Gustin, describes the organisation’s own perspective of its influencer role: “Because of the timing of BIFA — and the nominations and ceremony in the run-up to Bafta voting — we help to give a bit of profile to British films, and help them to get seen by Bafta voters, among the enormous pile of DVDs and screenings they’re invited to.”
BIFA may be having an impact on Bafta in other ways too. The BIFAs long ago included casting as part of its multi-disciplinary craft award, before splitting that prize into nine separate categories — including casting — in 2017; casting has been introduced as a new category at the Baftas this year. BIFA introduced unconscious bias training in 2018, now mandatory for all voters and jury members; Bafta this year set up unconscious bias training for jury chairs and committee members.
The films getting a BIFA lift this year include Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History Of David Copperfield (11 nominations), Tom Harper’s Wild Rose (10), Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir (eight), Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts’ documentary For Sama (five) and Mark Jenkin’s Bait (four). All five are nominated in the best British independent film category. The nominations are the result of votes from the 730-strong BIFA membership — although by no means all the members vote, and they must pass high viewing thresholds of titles to vote in any category. Most of the winners are decided by juries.
The principal Bafta category where BIFA choices may help guide voter viewing decisions is the outstanding British feature award, where Bafta voters had to choose from more than 60 UK features last year. The top three choices of voters are automatically nominated. A jury then selects three more nominees from the rest of the voters’ top 15 picks. If a film is not among the top 15 choices of the Bafta voters, the jury is powerless to add it.
This makes it vital for smaller titles such as For Sama and Bait, and even for bigger ones such as Copperfield which is not being released in the US until 2020, that they are viewed by enough Bafta voters, and garner enough votes, to put them in the mix.
In the main Bafta categories, apart from The Favourite last year, there is slender evidence the BIFAs had much impact on voters. In 2017, none of the BIFA winners in the acting categories — Josh O’Connor for God’s Own Country, Florence Pugh for Lady Macbeth, Simon Russell Beale for The Death Of Stalin and Patricia Clarkson for The Party — went on to snag a Bafta nomination.
In contrast, there is massive overlap each year between the Bafta and Oscar nominations — 15 of the 20 acting nominees last year, for example.
“The job Bafta does as a ceremony that honours international film, and that gives profile to the UK industry by being part of that broader awards conversation, is a valuable one,” says Wallace. “Their positioning and our positioning is very complementary. But we are cheering from the sidelines when we see British talent doing well.”