Anna Higgs

Source: Screen File

Anna Higgs

Anna Higgs is passionate and serious about her role as chair of the film committee of the Bafta Film Awards. She has sat on the committee as a member since 2018, becoming deputy chair and then chair in 2021, so has been at the heart of the organisational soul-searching that has characterised the past three years.

She has helped to drive through decisions around membership and voting processes that have aimed to make the nominations more diverse, more gender-balanced, more representative of UK society as a whole.

An immediately tangible change since being introduced for the 2021 awards was the major overhaul of how Bafta members voted for the film awards. A longlisting jury was introduced for major categories including the four performance awards and best director. This has created a third round of voting and given the entire body of some 7,000 global members the chance to have their say in those categories only in the final round.

However, unless voters opt-in to vote in the animation, documentary and film not in the English language categories (and they can only opt in to two), they cannot vote on these at all.

While there have been grumblings that this more engineered way of doing things is undemocratic, it has produced a sweep of nominations of which Bafta can be proud for three years in a row. They are racially mixed when it comes to the performance categories and, if not gender-balanced, do feature at least one woman in the best director line-up.

The US Academy, which has no voting interventions, has produced a far less diverse set of Oscar nominations for the past three years.

“It’s very complex and nuanced, for sure,” Higgs says of the delicate balance between democracy and interventionism. “Across the film awards review, we made over 120 changes. That is primarily because the systemic challenges we face as an industry are not solvable by [doing] one thing.”

Higgs emphasises the changes were based on nine months of deep consultation, from industry data and from number-crunching the Bafta entries.

“The data we are seeing this year for example is that more than twice as many men were submitted for the director category than women,” she explains. “It is why the gender parity for the directing category at long­listing stage is absolutely vital. I look forward to the point when we don’t have to make any of these interventions because the whole pipeline is much more equitable and more representative of all intersections.

“It’s not about not trusting the outcome of the voting,” she adds. “We’re basing it on the previous year’s voting, what is getting made and where the industry is lagging in terms of representation. However, when it comes to longlisting, it isn’t a grab bag of any submitted filmmakers. All the categories that have a [long­listing] jury are still choosing from top-ranked votes from our members in those chapters.

Higgs goes on to say: “It is hopefully about right this year in terms of that balance. But there is always progress to be made. And always iterations to be made. No progressive policy is something that should be set in stone. Right after the film awards, there is a film committee meeting and we will dive in and do an ad-hoc review of who those winners turned out to be and crunch that data a bit further.”

Passion project

Higgs brings to her role nearly 30 years’ experience. She trained in production at the National Film and Television School before working as an independent producer and taking roles at Film4 (as head of digital) and at LVMH’s global video channel Nowness (as creative director). Most recently she was at Meta (formerly Facebook), where she held various roles including director of entertainment media partnerships. Now on gardening leave, she feels glad for the extra time to dedicate to the Bafta role, which is voluntary and unpaid.

She is aware of some complaints about the new voting processes and does not try to bat away their legitimacy. But “my experience of what I see and what gets flagged up, and that is most things, is that the [negative feedback] is minimal,” she says.

“My job as film committee chair is not to be a gatekeeper or come with preconceived notions. My job is to harness and elevate and support the expertise and intersectional representation that we have in the committee and right across our membership. Our membership elect the committee. We co-opt additional members in to ensure we have representatives across crafts, across sectors and across demographics. Where we do get [negative feedback], we listen to it, we work it out.

“‘Are we British enough?’ is a question we get often. Around the review, we had a robust discussion with filmmakers such as Paul Greengrass who said we need to celebrate how British we are. This year’s nominations have a really UK perspective on what is a global film industry. Bafta has a distinctive view. The UK sits in this interesting global place, between the US, Europe and the rest of the world, and our talent travels broadly around the world and works in very global ways.”

She describes UK actor and writer Richard E Grant, the host for this year’s ceremony on February 19 at the Royal Festival Hall, as “beloved” and believes he will create a warm, rather than, say, snarky atmosphere. “He has a love and joy and passion for cinema and so it will be much more about the power of films to connect us,” says Higgs. “The reason I do this job is because it is about the power of film to connect us. Bafta is an arts charity and one of the biggest parts of our remit is to shine a light on films and filmmakers, and a huge range of that work. Having that come through much more tonally in the room will be wonderful.”

The next big discussion is poised to be the pros and cons of introducing gender-neutral acting awards. “We are consulting with peer academies as well as organisations such as Glaad, Women in Film and TV, and a huge range of big stakeholders and experts to ensure we make the right decisions at the right time,” Higgs says. “In the review, there were points of view and case studies on both sides. Industry data from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, for example, shows that, for women, even if they are in a lead role they often have less agency, less dialogue in terms of script time.

“Going gender-neutral could impact negatively in terms of representation of women in that category,” Higgs notes. “However, you want to make decisions that are inclusive of all intersections. It is something we are constantly reviewing and looking at the stats, looking at the submissions. I am looking forward to digging into it much deeper after this year’s awards.”