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The BAFTAs: More than just the British Oscars

This Sunday sees the the 71st British Academy Film Awards known as the BAFTAs. And personally as a Brit I prefer the BAFTAs over the Oscars because it celebrates British contribution to film and it’s a night to celebrate all of our home grown talent. This year it will be held in Royal Albert Hall, which only seems appropriate.

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The BAFTAs not only support existing talent but upcoming talent, celebrating acting talent with the EE Rising Star award. This has seen previous actors like Tom Holland, John Boyega, Jack O’Connell, Will Poulter and Juno Temple winning the award in the previous five years. The BAFTA state that it’s charitable purpose is to “support, develop and promote the art forms of the moving image, by identifying and rewarding excellence, inspiring practitioners and benefiting the public” which is something that is very much needed in the ever changing film and entertainment industry where often talent is ignored and pushed aside for profit.

The BAFTA (which stands for British Academy of Film and Television Arts) was founded in 1947 by important and well respect figures of the British film industry such as David Lean, Alexander Korda, Carol Reed, Charles Laughton, and Roger Manvell. Eleven years later, the British Film Academy merged with the Guild of Television Producers and Directors to form The Society of Film and Television Arts. Director David Lean donated royalties from his films Bridge On The River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago to The Society and these served as an invaluable source of working capital in its early years.

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After the Second World War, many Brits seeked entertainment and escapism in the form of cinema and for a short brief time the British Film Industry had it’s own film studio to rival Hollywood, known as the Rank Organisation which many of the key directors mentioned above worked for. The world wide success of Brief Encounter and Great Expectations meant that there was a valid reason to celebrate British cinema.

The BAFTA committee was based on the grounds that it should be non-factional, non-political and whose first aim should be to establish closer cooperation between the creative workers of all categories (feature, documentary, educational, cartoon and newsreel), undertake research, issue publications and give awards for artistic merit. And while we no longer have the newsreel or the cartoon short seen in our cinemas, these principals still remain the focus of the committee. Nowadays, BAFTA is supported by a membership of about 6,000 people from the film, television and video game industries.

The ceremony previously took place in April or May, but since 2002 it takes place in February in order to precede the Oscars and to get us all hyped for the Oscars. The awards are mostly open to all nationalities, however there is an award for Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Producer or Director. Previous winners have included Naji Abu Nowar & Rupert Lloyd for Theeb (2015), Stephen Beresford & David Livingstone for Pride (2014) and Kieran Evans for Kelly + Victor (2014).

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Only UK films are eligible for the categories of The British Short Film and British Short Animation awards. The Awards ceremony is delayed broadcast on British television the same evening and usually on BBC 1 and BBC America for our friends across the Pond.. The Academy’s awards are in the form of a theatrical mask designed by American sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe, which was commissioned by the Guild of Television Producers in 1955.

This year’s nominees for outstanding British Film are quite noteworthy for being some of the year’s most praised films, and include the wonderful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Macbeth, God’s Own Country, Darkest Hour, The Death of Stalin and Paddington 2. All seven films are different and unique in their own way but prove just how talented British film-makers are.

The nominees for Outstanding British Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, are also hard to predict. Gareth Tunley (Writer/Director/Producer), Jack Healy Guttmann & Tom Meeten (Producers) have been nominated for The Ghoul, Rungano Nyoni (Writer/Director) and Emily Morgan (Producer) have been nominated for I am not a Witch, Johnny Harris (Writer/Producer) and Thomas Napper (Director) have been nominated for Jawbone, Lucy Cohen (Director) has been nominated for Kingdom of Us, and Alice Birch (Writer), William Oldroyd (Director), and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly (Producer) have been nominated for Lady Macbeth.

English actors Cosmo Jarvis, Naomi Ackie and Florence Pugh take part in a photo session alongside director William Oldroyd at the San Sebastian Film Festival

This year also sees Sir Ridley Scott being honoured with the Fellowship at the EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday 18 February. The director of such classics like Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Gladiator (2000) has stated that “It is a privilege to have been able to make a career for myself in this industry and to be honored for my body of work is indeed very gratifying.” Scott is one of the world’s most famous and highly praised film directors so it only seems fitting that he receives the fellowship.

The EE British Academy Film Awards take place on Sunday 18 February at the Royal Albert Hall. The ceremony will be hosted by national treasure Joanna Lumley. It is certainly not just another knock off of the Oscars, it is a celebration of British talent and a must see for all lovers of film.

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