Joe’s Blog

Baftas 2009

February 9, 2009 7:44 am

If there’s one thing the British Film Industry is fantastic at, it’s toadying up to Hollywood. There’s very few actors writers or directors, who won’t bugger off to Los Angeles at the first sniff of blockbuster supporting role, or the chance to have their dream project re-shaped beyond all recognition to fit a demographic whilst pocketing a huge wodge (I make an exception for craftspeople because they are paid a fraction of the cost of ‘the talent’ and by necessity have to go where the money is).

And last night saw the annual celebration of our ‘special relationship': The Baftas.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Baftas. Years ago I despised its insularity and refusal to recognise popular film, unless it was British. Now I despise it’s willingness to suck up to Hollywood’s great and good in an attempt to feel important, which, quite frankly, it isn’t. It’s a rather sad exercise in pretending it’s part of the Hollywood machine, whilst desperately trying to retain it’s own identity. And as a result it ends up falling between two stools and looking rather foolish.

Until a few years back the Baftas were a little bit awkward. It operated very strict rules regarding which films could qualify, insisting on a ‘proper’ release and a cut off point of release of December 31st.

This led to the, seemingly, embarrassing situation where Oscar would be awarding those films released in the month or two before the awards, whilst Bafta would invariably be bestowing honours on last years Oscar winners (or in the case of Silence of the Lambs, next years)

This made it very difficult for Bafta to attract top (Hollywood) stars, as they would be there promoting films that were anything up to a year old, and therefore, in business terms, no longer worthy of their attention.

In addition to this, the Baftas were usually scheduled a week or two AFTER the Oscars. Again, the stars, by this point would consider their ‘press-the-flesh duties finished until the awards season started up again in November. The point of attending award ceremonies is to get your face out there, promote the film and maybe take home a paperweight. By the time Bafta came around the films they were promoting were all but done at the box office, and they had no other awards to promote themselves for.

This led to a very bizarre ceremony a few years back, where Bafta hosted TWO shows simultaneously, one in London, for British winners, and one in LA for those American stars who deemed London unworthy of their time. It was dreadful.

The decision in 2000 to shift it forward in the calendar resulted in more Hollywood stars shipping over in a desperate bid to market themselves while the Oscar voting was still ongoing. It also, rather more controversially, set in motion a change in Bafta rules which led to the rather embarrassing situation last night, where all the Best Film nominees had only been released in the past five weeks.

But wait! Bafta rules state, to be eligible a film must have been released in the previous calendar year? I quote from Bafta’s website “Films that open between 1 January and 6 February 2009 inclusive may be ‘qualified’ by Distributors by being screened to Academy Film Voting Members by Thursday 18 December 2008.”

So, the best film of 2008, is actually one which had one screening late in the year, but was only released to the public in 2009. This is ONLY there so that Bafta can be seen to be honouring the same films as its American counterpart, and to attract Hollywood A-listers who may be in town promoting their Oscar-baiting wares (this year, for instance, Brad Pitt was in town promoting Benjamin Button, which had been on release for a whole THREE DAYS before the ceremony at which it walked off with three awards, but was nowhere to be seen when the nominations were announced).

Quite simply, it makes us look ridiculous. The Oscars have always been ridiculous (as most award ceremonies are) because it’s never really been about the ‘Best’ movies or the ‘best’ performances. It’s always been about politics, public feeling (how else do you explain the feel-good Chicago taking home Best Picture at the first post 9-11 awards?) and celebrating itself.

The Baftas have become nothing more than yet another Oscar barometer, alongside the Golden Globes, and the various Screen Guilds seemingly in every major city in the USA.

No other international film awards chase Hollywood acceptance as much as we do.

Maybe the case for the defence is we need American dollars at Pinewood/Shepperton (bestowed an award last night) to keep out industry going. But the French and Germans don’t have the facilities and craftspeople that we do (sor so we are constantly told) but their film industries are very healthy, and in fact actively repel American colonialism in their cinemas (there’s an interesting article here, which argues that this is a bad thing, but it’s a fascinating read).

Bafta needs to grow some balls, frankly. It needs to reinstate the 31st December deadline, and insist on a minimum number of screens to qualify as a ‘release'; it needs to stop trying to anticipate what Uncle Oscar is going to do, and give awards to those it genuinely believes to be worthy winners; but by the same token it needs to be less back-slappingly pleased with itself. If it wants to reward British films, then make it a British films only awards, but if it wants to be seen as a fair and open awards, it needs to stop simply aping the Americans at their own game.

If Brad Pitt doesn’t want to come, then fuck him. What’s the point anyway? You only want him there because the BBC will give up the lucrative rights if there isn’t enough stars. And what do you do when they stars are there? You ask Sharon Stone and Goldie Hawn to give out awards!

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