What’s the Deal With BAFTA’s New Film Award Voting Rules?

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Photo Source: Courtesy BAFTA/Shutterstock

Q: What’s the deal with the recent changes to BAFTA’s Film Awards criteria? 

In recent years, you may have seen headlines about changes BAFTA made to its British Academy Film Awards. From launching digital viewing portals mid-pandemic to recruiting diverse members to requiring unconscious bias training, it seems there’s little the organization won’t try as they update their policies around film eligibility, voting, and membership. The new rules are sure to have a fascinating impact on awards seasons to come. 

So what’s the latest? The BAFTA Award category for outstanding British film, which since 1947 has been the gold standard for U.K.-based filmmakers, now includes a whopping 10 nominees. Among the 120 policy changes the organization implemented in 2020 was the expansion of several categories; previously, the acting, directing, and British film awards only had five contenders. This is all part of BAFTA’s efforts to better reflect the diversity of cinema audiences and increase the number of films voters must see and consider. The more the merrier!

For round one, members in each chapter make their top selections. (Chapters are composed of a minimum of 100 BAFTA members who hold specialist knowledge in the relevant craft.) The top entries in each category automatically make the longlist. Then, in round two, appointed juries draw from those longlists to determine which contenders will achieve nomination status. Finally, in round three, all BAFTA members vote on all major categories. 

With its expansion, the British film category has received the biggest overhaul. Now, in round one, members of BAFTA’s opt-in British Film chapter rank up to 20 of their favorite films made by majority U.K. residents. The top 20 overall are longlisted, and the top five are immediately nominated. Then, in round two, the jury considers which of the movies that ranked sixth through 20th will receive those five additional nominations. This is more likely to create what awards editors such as myself love: a wide-ranging mix of films to consider.

Rather than a lopsided list composed of either juggernauts or quiet fare, the 2021 BAFTA British film nominees included both buzzy mainstream titles (“Promising Young Woman,” “The Mauritanian,” “The Father”) and independent films ( “Saint Maud,” “His House,” and “Mogul Mowgli”). Now, the accolade that is most unique to the British Academy Film Awards can distinguish itself even further, highlighting a wider swath of the nation’s cinema.

In keeping with its mission—and following through on promises of expanding inclusivity and accessibility—BAFTA has widened the eligibility net even further in 2022. Whereas previously, the outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer category only included titles with a theatrical release in the U.K., now those released internationally or screened at certain festivals (including Venice, Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto) can qualify. This, coupled with the decision to lower the theatrical screening requirement for all films released in early 2021 due to the pandemic, means that first-time British filmmakers can emerge from anywhere in the world.

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 10 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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Jack Smart
Jack Smart is the awards editor at Backstage, where he covers all things Emmy, SAG, Oscar, and Tony Awards. He also produces and hosts Backstage’s awards podcast “In the Envelope” and has interviewed some of the biggest stars of stage and screen.
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