BAFTA Gives Boost to British Debut Films, Returns to Theatrical Release Eligibility With Updated Awards Rules

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BAFTA has unveiled new eligibility rules for British debut movies that will widen the net for emerging filmmakers. For the first time, debut titles can qualify for the awards by screening at certain festivals, while debut films releasing internationally are now also eligible for BAFTAs.

The Academy has said the changes are to ensure that the first film from a debut British writer, director or producer will be considered, rather than only their first film qualifying for a U.K. theatrical release.

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The qualifying festivals include: Berlin, Busan, Cannes (including, Critics’ Week, Directors’ Fortnight and Un Certain Regard), Hot Docs, International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Locarno, Rotterdam, San Sebastian, Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, Toronto, Tribeca and Venice.

U.K. festivals in the mix are Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Sheffield, Leeds, Open City and Oska Bright.

The change, says BAFTA Film Committee chair Anna Higgs, comes as the Academy “continues to shine a spotlight on British talent, and particularly talent at the start of their careers.”

“By looking at a set of world-class festivals that could help us with eligibility and thinking about how the ecosystem works for first-time filmmakers and more accurately reflecting and being more inclusive of excellence in that space was something we really wanted to do,” said Higgs.

BAFTA has also updated its exhibition guidelines around the pandemic. The “special eligibility measurements” put in place for the 2021 Film Awards, which allowed more flexibility around VOD releases, will continue to cover movies released between Jan. 1 and June 30 for the 2022 Film Awards. These films need to have a minimum of one theatrical screening per day for seven days (excluding festival screenings), or an approved U.K. VOD platform minimum 30-day release if a theatrical release wasn’t possible due to the pandemic.

However, from July 1, 2021, to March 11, 2022, films are only eligible if they have been “theatrically exhibited publicly to a paying audience on at least 10 commercial screens in the U.K. for at least seven days in aggregate (excluding festival screenings).”

If the situation worsens with COVID-19, however, BAFTA will go back to the industry about revising the rules.

“We have to always think about what’s happening in the industry and reflect on that,” said Emma Baehr, executive director of awards and content at BAFTA. “We will get back together and speak to studios and distributors and consult with the industry and look at it again, should that happens.”

Higgs added: “We will review if the situation changes dramatically gain.”

The BAFTA Film Committee carries out a review every year in consultation with various industry stakeholders. It continues to build upon the work of the organization’s groundbreaking 2020 review, which shook up BAFTA membership and implemented radical changes to the voting system and wider org.

As previously announced, the Film Awards will take place on March 13, with nominations announced Feb. 3. Round 1 voting opens on Dec. 10 and closes on Jan. 3.

Other changes to eligibility and voting procedures are detailed below:

Eligibility

Documentary and Film Not in the English Language categories will again have a lower qualifying threshold and an extended eligibility period. These films can be entered into all categories if they have been exhibited publicly on at least one commercial screen in the U.K. for no fewer than seven days in aggregate (not including festival screenings); and their eligibility period runs until March 31.

Documentaries which are commissioned by a broadcaster or streamer will need to appeal to the Film Committee to be considered for entry to the Film Awards. This does not apply to acquisitions.

Voting

Director: the directing chapter will continue to vote in Round One for their top 20; of these the top seven male and female directors will be automatically longlisted, with the remaining three male and three female directors selected by the longlisting jury (previously the longlisting jury put through two male and two female directors to add to eight male and female directors voted for by the directing chapter). The voting process in Round Two and Three remain unchanged.

Performance categories: the top two performances in each of the four acting categories voted for by the acting chapter in Round One will be automatically nominated, otherwise the longlisting and nominating jury process introduced for the 2021 Awards will continue. Headshots of performers will also be published on BAFTA View for the first time.

Documentary: Round One voting will continue to be carried out by the Documentary opt-in chapter to create the longlist of 15 titles with the top two from this round being automatically nominated. This year a specialist jury is also being introduced for Round Two, to vote for the remaining three nominees. The winner will continue to be selected by the opt-in chapter (previously the opt-in chapter determined all nominations after Round One).

Sound: Films longlisted for Sound are invited to submit an eight-minute clip (unedited from the film) to be shown to Sound chapter members at the BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly ahead of the Round Two nominations voting deadline for the Sound chapter.

Screenings

The 2022 Film Awards will be the first year where DVDs are no longer permitted. BAFTA View, the desktop-only viewing platform for members, will have improved functionality and Hard of Hearing subtitles will be mandatory for all films.

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