The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) appears to be winning the all-important support of UK distributors for its plan to move its film awards to a profile-raising pre-Academy Awards slot.
While there are still concerns amongst some key distributors, those contacted by Screendaily which backed a move from April 9 to February 25 ranged from US majors such as DreamWorks to leading independents including Pathe Distribution and FilmFour. Bafta intends to move the upcoming awards in 2001, providing it has distributors' support, and aims to hear from distributors next week before finalising the move.
DreamWorks' Peter Dunne countered arguments from at least one leading distributor that talent will be tied up in the US on the Oscar trail, asserting that "more talent will come because the Baftas will be strategically more important."
A move to February 25 would mean the ceremony would fall only a month before the Oscars. Even the Golden Globes, traditionally taken as a bellweather for the Oscars, come as far back as January. As FilmFour's Peter Buckingham pointed out: "A number of British Academy members are also American Academy members...From the point of view of the public and the press it will be become an important staging point."
Adding to the awards' potential significance as a pointer for the Oscars, Bafta has steadfastly remained an international rather than a purely British showcase. Many country's national film prizes are timed to benefit from pre-Oscar hoopla, but are only for local titles.
Like many distributors, including Pathe's Maj-Britt Kirchner, Dunne argues that the cost of bringing talent to London for the awards will be better justified if the awards form part of the Oscar campaign. He added that the awards will also come closer to the UK opening of pictures competing for Oscars, which must be released in the US by late December.
DreamWorks last year spent heavily bringing over American Beauty talent such as Kevin Spacey to attend the Baftas, where the picture hoovered up six awards including best film. However, Dunne points out that any post-Bafta box-office boost was negligible, while the film shot up 48% on the Monday after the Oscars.
"We were totally obliged to do so of course," said Dunne, "but it is a lot of money to put on one country's publicity budget."
Dunne acknowledges that post-Bafta box-office might not go up even if the awards move, but said: "If Bafta had a strategic position, it would not be such a thankless task."
Columbia's UK theatrical chief Richard Napper, who stressed that he not yet giving an official coporate statement, said: "Personally, it is very interesting and my gut tells me that it would be a good thing for Bafta and the British film industry'The Oscars are the apogee of the awards season; after that, no one is interested."
Some are concerned about Bafta becoming another step on the road to the Oscars, while others point out that the awards were well attended by stars such as Dustin Hoffman this year and generally seen as a success.
"Will the Bafta's just be seen as another award in the build up to the big one'" asked one distributor.
But FilmFour's Buckingham pointed out that the pre-Oscar slot could generate more press coverage for the event, which in turn would promote British and overseas cinema in the UK. The move is expected to boost Bafta's clout in securing free TV coverage of the event.
UIP's Paul Oneile voiced concern about smaller films being released in late December in the US to qualify for the Oscars not having enough time to generate awareness amongst Bafta members. The revised deadline for screening films to Bafta members will be December 17, while films will have to have played to a paying audience for seven consecutive days in the UK prior to February 1 and on general release by March 18.
But supporters maintain that if such problems arise, they will be more than outweighed by the upside. "The new awards could be a staging post for the Oscars, rather than being a provincial irrelevance because they come after the Oscars," said one US major.
Pathe's Kirchner also sees a move as a way reinforcing the event's independence. This year, American Beauty's repetition of its Oscar triumph left some with a sense of deja-vu. "It's a great idea," Kirchner said. "We must do something so that the awards do not just reflect the Oscars."
Other worries were for smaller films without studio backing not having the Oscar ceremony to use as a launch pad in the UK. But Dunne pointed out that those titles will still have the Oscar nominations. One smaller independent added: "It makes sense to try [to move the Baftas]. It does a UK distributor very little good to win one now because it is all a bit late."