All Of Us Strangers

This year’s Bafta Film Awards are the fourth where nominations have been impacted by the introduction of juries to key categories, as well as a host of other reforms initiated by the UK’s film academy in the wake of the #BaftaSoWhite debacle of 2020. And for each of those four years, Screen International has spoken with UK-based awards campaigners to gauge their reaction to the Bafta nominations, and how they feel the jury processes are working.

You might imagine that campaigners are, instinctively, not fans of jury interventions — since the jury process is all secret, nobody knows who will be on the juries, and jurors cannot be lobbied. However, campaigners who have spoken to Screen over the years understand why those juries are in place for categories including acting and directing, support the process, and have been broadly accepting of the outcomes each year. This was especially the case with last year’s nominations, where Edward Berger’s All Quiet On The Western Front led the field, and nominations for juried categories seemed well-aligned with categories determined by chapter and popular vote.

This year, however, Bafta’s jury system is once more a hot topic — at least for a quartet of UK-based campaigners who once again spoke to Screen under the condition of anonymity.

That said, first, there is some good news for Bafta. “I think everyone would agree, it’s a strong year in general for film, and for real quality film,” offers one campaigner. “There have been lots of conversations about snubs, but look at the nominees, it’s a strong list. If you look at best film, which is where the popular vote can be seen clearly, you’ve got five really good films in Anatomy Of A Fall, The Holdovers, Poor Things, Oppenheimer and Killers Of The Flower Moon.”

On top of that, campaigners are enthused by strong showings in the nominations for British films — with Poor Things, The Zone Of Interest, All Of Us Strangers and Saltburn among the most nominated titles — and also for foreign-language films, including Anatomy Of A Fall, The Zone Of Interest and Past Lives.

For Bafta’s director category, the top two names in first-round voting are nominated automatically, and then a jury picks four more names from a gender-balanced longlist that has been determined by chapter vote with additions from a longlisting jury. This year, the six nominees are Oppenheimer’s Christopher Nolan (likely one of the top two choices of the chapter), Maestro’s Bradley Cooper, The Holdovers’ Alexander Payne, Anatomy Of A Fall’s Justine Triet, The Zone Of Interest’s Jonathan Glazer and All Of Us Strangers’ Andrew Haigh.

“The thing is, they’re all completely worthy to be on there,” suggests one campaigner. “But when you set up a jury to determine a more diverse selection, and you only have one woman nominated when it’s been such a strong year for female directors, that’s disappointing.” On the longlist and available to the jury for nomination were names including Past Lives’ Celine Song, Barbie’s Greta Gerwig and Priscilla’s Sofia Coppola.

Her point is echoed by a male campaigner. “The introduction of the jury for director was a positive thing,” he says. “At some point in the future, there might not be a need for a jury — when the votes come in, and yield a truly diverse set of nominations. But meanwhile the people on this year’s directing jury have put forward a list of five white men and one white woman. What’s the point of that jury? If they’re not looking at where the votes are, and then correcting it so that it’s more representative, then why not just let people vote?”

Performance categories

 

While UK-based campaigners may feel the directing jury did not take a strong enough lead when determining nominations, their criticisms of the juries in the four acting categories tend in other directions. Each performance category has its own jury, and much comment has already been made about inconsistencies that have resulted: Paul Mescal and Claire Foy nominated for All Of Us Strangers, but nothing for the film’s leading actor Andrew Scott; Teo Yoo in Past Lives, but not Greta Lee; Robert De Niro in Killers Of The Flower Moon, but Lily Gladstone omitted from nominations.

In the case of the four acting categories, three names in each are automatically nominated by virtue of being the top choices of the performance chapter in first-round voting, and then separate juries add three more names from the longlists to each.

The third campaigner who spoke to Screen calls some of this year’s decisions for these categories “bewildering”. This campaigner is shocked that Scott is not nominated, failing to make the top three in the member vote, and then not chosen by the jury — and it would be fascinating to know whether the actor would have fared better had nominations been derived purely by chapter vote. “It raises questions that the jury did not see fit to put this admired performance from a British film through.”

The more Bafta diversifies its membership, the campaigner adds, the less need there should be for these jury interventions. “When the jury system was first brought in, it was done for very good reason. However, I think Bafta has made strides to install in its membership the need to give fair representation across the board, and to give everybody a chance.”

Our fourth campaigner feels the separate juries for the acting categories have exacerbated the impression of inconsistency this year. “I do think there should be one jury judging them all — otherwise it just doesn’t look serious. And it highlights the whole problem with the jury system. They could mask it better if they at least had a united front across the performance categories… but maybe it’s good that the outcome this year shows up how much personal taste [of a minority] is a factor whenever you have a jury system.”

Currently jurors in acting categories only need to have seen the 10 longlisted films under discussion for their category. With a single jury across all performance categories, that viewing burden would have extended to 22 different films across the four longlists this year. That would not be an issue if the jury is made up of professional film critics and festival programmers, who would likely already have seen everything longlisted. But if Bafta wishes to properly represent its membership on such a jury, including a significant proportion of actors, recruitment to a single jury covering four acting categories might prove challenging, especially given the tight window of time in round two.

British film and debut

How To Have Sex

The inconsistencies in the Bafta nominations this year were likewise evident in the two British categories: outstanding British film and outstanding British debut. For the former, five films are nominated by virtue of being the top choices of the opt-in British chapter in first-round voting, with five more films selected by a jury from the longlist, making 10 nominees in total. For British debut, a single jury collectively views all the eligible titles, then determines the longlist, five nominees and a winner — regular Bafta members play no role.

The outstanding British film nominees include three titles from debut directors and writers that have made a significant impact this year — at festivals, at the British Independent Film Awards, and at the UK and ­Ireland box office. All are directed by women. Of those three films — Rye Lane, Scrapper and How To Have Sex — only the latter achieved a nomination from the outstanding British debut jury.

“The decision of this jury is egregious,” offers one campaigner. “Rye Lane and Scrapper have joined a very small club that no-one wants to be part of, with the most notable previous member being Francis Lee for God’s Own Country.” (In 2018, Lee’s debut feature was nominated for outstanding British film, but omitted by the Bafta jury for the debut category.)

Another campaigner has a more conflicted view. On the one hand, “I like the debut choices, because I think the entire point of that category is to call out titles that aren’t getting attention elsewhere. I like surprises in that category. I think it’s kind of fun.” But on the other hand, “There’s some obvious choices to put in there, and they should be recognised, and they’re not.”

For yet another campaigner, “It feels like tall-poppy syndrome, where something like Rye Lane has succeeded so well commercially, the jurors feel like it holds less of a place in that category. I understand why that award has a jury, and I think that should be protected, but I do think it should be considered whether there has developed a reluctance to support success.”

And as our fourth campaigner points out, “You only get one chance to be nominated for this award. Next time, your film won’t be your debut. To be omitted here is to lose a big chance of winning a Bafta.” True, Rye Lane and Scrapper compete this year in outstanding British film, but there they face very formidable competition indeed, including titles nominated for best film (Poor Things) or director (All Of Us Strangers, The Zone Of Interest). A win here for any of the debut films looks beyond their grasp.

Foreign language and documentary

In film not in the English language, the campaigners who spoke to Screen only have good things to say about this year’s five nominated titles, which included three films earning multiple nominations across the categories — Anatomy Of A Fall, Past Lives and The Zone Of Interest — plus Mstyslav Chernov’s documentary 20 Days In Mariupol and JA Bayona’s Society Of The Snow.

“Are all the nominees your favourite eligible titles? Perhaps not for me,” says one campaigner. “But is that a good list of films that represents the best of foreign-language cinema this year? I think it is.” Of course, there is no jury intervention in this category — the five nominees were determined by the votes of the opt-in chapter.

As for documentary, the campaigner consensus is warm towards the five nominees, and certainly more than it is to the category’s rather-­lopsided original longlist of 10 titles, which included seven personality-­based films, with subjects (all male) straddling film, music, fashion and spy fiction. The top two from that longlist by member vote are automatically nominated, and a jury has added three more. In the process, four of the personality-­based titles have fallen out, giving the list of nominees less of a celebrity emphasis. That said, American Symphony (about musician Jon Batiste), Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie and Wham! are all nominated alongside 20 Days In Mariupol and Madeleine Gavin’s Beyond Utopia — the latter about North Koreans attempting to flee their country.

“You’ve ended up with a balanced list of quite important and good documentaries, alongside more crowdpleasing titles,” offers one campaigner.

Another campaigner is less enthused. She points out that because Bafta voters saw their voting opportunities eroded with the 2021 awards, more chose to join opt-in chapters such as documentary — leading to a mainstreaming tendency for the category. A documentary jury was then introduced for the 2022 awards to try to correct the course. “They tried to fix it, but they’ve stuck a Band-Aid on a wound — so that might need to be reassessed.” One solution would be to continue to welcome non-specialists to participate in the documentary category, rather than further diminishing voting rights, but then give those who opt in a list of documentary features they must view.

While the awards campaigners found plenty to question and criticise about the Bafta nominations, perhaps that is because this year the films are so strong that inevitably there would be stinging omissions in the nominations. It is also worth remembering that in every film awards in every year, voting academies reach decisions that elicit surprise and complaint — and sometimes shock and outrage.

In the case of the Bafta Film Awards, a fair number of key categories deliver nominations with heavy input from juries, so the jury process inevitably becomes the focus for criticism. Somehow it is easier to accept what you feel is a misguided decision if delivered by thousands of voters, than one determined by a jury whose names are under wraps until they are published in the booklet handed out at the awards ceremony on February 18 at London’s Southbank Centre Royal Festival Hall. It all gives Bafta a lot to think about when it conducts its annual review of voting processes after the dust has settled on this year’s awards.





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