BAFTA Prepares for First Film Awards Since Major Diversity Review
12th January 2021

As BAFTA prepares for its first Film Awards since concluding its sweeping diversity review last fall, the organization is rolling out “conscious voter” training ahead of its first round of voting.

Voting in round 1 begins Jan. 12 and closes Jan. 26, and will be followed by an inaugural longlist of all categories set to be published Feb. 4. The initiative forms part of a concerted drive towards a more transparent awards season.

BAFTA unveiled the results of its diversity review in September to encouragement from the industry, which welcomed many of the 120-plus changes. Among them was the aforementioned longlisting round across all categories that aims to level the playing field in acting and directing, in particular; an expansion of the outstanding British film category to 10 nominations; and the introduction of 1,000 new members from underrepresented groups.

BAFTA has received 258 film entries this year — just slightly under the 269 entries in 2020, which was a record year. Chair Krishnendu Majumdar calls the volume of entries “really positive” given many in the industry speculated a “big drop-off” due to COVID-19. Overall, entries have been on an upward trajectory in the last four years: in 2019, the Academy received 231 entries, which was a nice boost from 218 in 2018.

This year, films that received theatrical releases or intended to screen theatrically but whose plans were scuppered by the pandemic, all qualified for awards consideration. Films that had streaming releases with a major streamer also qualified.

“We’ve been flexible with the dates because we’ve gone from lockdown to cinemas being open, to lockdown, to cinemas opening again, to lockdown,” says Film Committee chair Marc Samuelson of the U.K.’s third national lockdown in under a year.

“Distributors have had to cope with that. There have been plans that then had to change. But, essentially, what we have qualifying are films that would have qualified in a normal year.”

This week, three short “conscious voter” videos will roll out, aimed at educating members about representation on screen, and reminding them of the context surrounding the films they’re screening. The videos — which are available to watch once voting has begun — were made in consultation with diversity and inclusion expert Huma Qazi, and feature senior BAFTA members including Duncan Kenworthy, Lennie James, Jo Hartley and Gemma Arterton.

“We’re trying to get people to think more consciously about voting. To have people like Duncan Kenworthy saying that everyone’s individual vote is important, and to try and be free of outside influences [goes a long way],” says Majumdar, who highlights that awards season coverage in the trade press and top contenders lists can be distracting to voters.

This year, members are also required to watch 15 randomly selected films in order to vote in round 2 — a directive the chair says “has gone down really well.”

“People are saying they’re watching things they haven’t done before,” he notes. “This way, each film should be watched at least 350-400 times if you work out the numbers, which is amazing because the whole point of the review was to level the playing field and make sure more work is watched, judged and evaluated.”

The org has so far had 80,000 streams on BAFTA View, the internal platform used by members to screen films —four times more than last year’s engagement.

While there were hopes the BAFTA Film Awards may take place as a physical event in April, the jury’s still out on how they’ll materialize.

“We’re working through various scenarios,” says Samuelson, who notes that “all scenarios” are available, “from a quite big in-person event because [the situation improves], all the way down to a smaller in-person event, all the way down to an event that doesn’t have any audience. We’re continuing to plan for all eventualities and thinking about it.”

The U.K. is under lockdown and is expected to remain so until at least March. England chief medical officer professor Chris Whitty said on Monday that the “worst weeks of the pandemic” are ahead before COVID-19 levels improve.

BAFTA, of course, is no stranger to hybrid events in pandemic times, given the success of the Craft and TV Awards last summer, both of which broadcast from a closed studio with winners accepting awards virtually.

Key dates for 2021 BAFTA Film Awards:

Tuesday, Jan. 12 — Round One voting opens at 10:00
Monday, Jan. 25 — Deadline for entrants to withdraw films
Tuesday, Jan. 26 — Round One voting closes at 18:00 / Deadline for SVFX reels
Thursday, Feb. 4 — Longlists announcement
Friday, Feb. 19 — Round Two voting opens at 10:00
Monday, March 1 — Round Two voting closes
Tuesday, March 9 — Nominations announcement
Thursday, March 25 — Round Three voting opens at 10:00
Wednesday, April 7 — Round Three voting closes at 18:00
Friday, April 9 — Entered films to have been screened to the public by this date (except for Films Not In The English Language (FNIEL) and Documentaries, which must be screened to the public by Friday, April 30)
Sunday, April 11 — EE British Academy Film Awards

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