Extravagant film producer Alexander Korda first broached the idea of establishing a British equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences over a suitably lavish dinner he was hosting for his fellow film swells at swank Claridge’s Hotel on May 13, 1947. Those sitting round the table included directors David Lean and Carol Reed and Ealing Comedies creator Michael Balcon. Having worked their way through sole with Liebfraumilch followed by steak and kidney pie, Korda compared their dessert of hot whipped meringue concealing a frozen ice cream heart to Russian women of his acquaintance. That’s when the conversation abruptly turned to why didn’t Britain have its own film academy giving awards? There had never been a British equivalent of the Oscars, so Lean was appointed the first chairman and donated his royalties. At the inaugural awards on May 29, 1949, Laurence Olivier presented just four categories. Now the British Academy Of Film & Television Arts presents 22 at its televised film–only awards show.
If you think the Oscars are overly complicated, then the BAFTAs will positively baffle. That’s because the current push is for their increasing democratization. Only the 6,350 film members are allowed to vote for the motion picture awards. They used to wade through every film released in Britain but that changed in 2005 when it became the responsibility of each pic’s producer and distributor to decide submissions which close on November 18 for the 2011 BAFTAs. The longlist will be published on December 3.
BAFTA’s management has long debated whether to have just two voting rounds like the Academy Awards. But, fearful that worthy films would be overlooked, the leadership believes the first round establishes the broad universe of films from which nominees and winners can be selected. Second round voting opens on December 8 and closes on January 5. The actual BAFTA nominations will be announced on January 18. Final voting for the February 13 award winners begins later that same day. For this third and final round, BAFTA members only vote for Best Film, and the four performance categories, and Film Not In the English Language (which can include UK films made in Welsh, Scots Gaelic, even Cornish, as well as French, Italian, and so on).
All the technical categories are voted by specialized chapters each made up of at least 80 film craft members. Some categories are then thrown out again for all BAFTA members, with a few decided by juries. Then there is the “Super Jury” made up of non–conflicted committee members, filmmakers, and other industry types who decide the winner of Outstanding British Film. By contrast, the most democratic process is for the Orange Rising Star Award. This year a jury will pick a longlist of eight before mobile phone customers who buy a midweek cinema ticket cut it to five. That shortlist then goes out to the general public again.
Despite their different procedures, how amusing that BAFTA and AMPAS have picked the same best motion picture winner five times in the past 11 years: The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Gladiator, and American Beauty.