Org’s rockin’ chair revamps Brit Acad’s spirit

Bevan-Jones will inherit high-profile, reshaped BAFTA

Duncan Kenworthy steps down this summer as chairman of the British Academy of Film & Television Arts after two years of devoting himself virtually full-time to the unpaid job.

He has presided over a period of reappraisal at the 58-year-old academy, and his successor Hilary Bevan-Jones will inherit a far more high-profile and in many ways reshaped organization.

No one who knows Kenworthy’s reputation as one of the U.K.’s most successful producers will be surprised at the impact he has made upon the org.

He didn’t start two years a course — he first joined BAFTA’s council in 1994, chaired the film committee for three years and was chair for one before he ascended to the pinnacle.

After he finished “Love Actually” (2003), he was able to clear his schedule and devote most of his energies to the chairmanship. “I know the focus that I’ve brought to the job has been unusual,” he says. “Unlike many people in my position, I don’t have the responsibilities of family and kids, and the need for a job to earn fees. For better or for worse, I have chosen to put my creative energies into producing the academy rather than my movies.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing BAFTA under Kenworthy’s tenure has been to deal with consequences of the vast expansion in its membership. The topper presided over last year’s decision to cap the membership at 6,500, including 1,500 in the U.S. Kenworthy also has overseen a two-part strategic review. The first half, delivered last year, attempted to articulate the vision and values of BAFTA.

“It was about agreeing who we are, what we are about, what we do and why. Just coming up with the definition that we exist to develop, promote and support the art forms of the moving image is very focusing,” he says.

The second half of the review, to be delivered this summer, deals with the legal structures and governance of the academy. “This will have a huge impact on how we will run our affairs,” Kenworthy predicts. “We are an educational charity, but is that the best way of structuring ourselves? Asking these questions will lead to changes in the way people are elected, how many times we meet and so on.

“I’m very aware that people give huge amounts of their time and intelligence to sit on our committees, and we’ve got to make sure that effort is properly appreciated and focused.”

He emphasises the responsibilities that come with membership. “We’re unusual in being a membership organization that doesn’t exist for the benefit of its members,” he explains. “Membership comes with as many responsibilities and duties as it does privileges. That’s why we’ve made voting compulsory for the film awards. We’re stamping out the gold standard of excellence every year, and it’s essential that our members exercise their judgment so that we can do that.”

Spanning film, TV and videogames, the purpose of the BAFTA awards is “to motivate and inspire those who make them, and educate and inform those who watch them,” Kenworthy says.

Changes in film awards voting were engineered to give more authority to BAFTAs choices. Campaign rules were tightened to help level the playing field between big and small movies. Specialist braches (editors, costume designers, makeup artists and so on) are progressively replacing the old jury system in the technical categories.

Computerization has made online voting across the entire membership a reality and an unqualified success.

New technology is transforming BAFTA in other ways as well. A swipe card entry system at the org’s 195 Piccadilly headquarters means that the org can track precisely who is and isn’t using its facilities, much improved since the comprehensive refurbishment of the building. That intelligence will enable the org to tailor itself more precisely to the needs of its members, and particularly to attract the great number who never set foot inside its HQ.

BAFTA has instituted regular cocktail parties for randomly invited members to encourage this silent majority into the building. A computerized ticket system for BAFTA events will make access both easier and fairer. It also will reveal those people who regularly apply for tickets but don’t show up.

New facilities include a wireless computer network in the bar area allowing members to connect their laptops to the Web while having a cup of coffee. Gradually, the fusty old-fashioned BAFTA is being replaced by something more stylish and modern — the membership just voted to ban smoking throughout the building.

“Ten years ago I wouldn’t have chosen to meet someone there, it just wasn’t my style,” Kenworthy admits. “But now I would be happy to do that.”

Not that he wants the org to turn its back on its past. “I want to honor our history at the same time as looking to our future,” he says.The refurbished bar has a timeline of BAFTA history, a projector screens silent movies onto the wall, and there’s an ever-changing gallery of movie posters and old stills from the org’s archives.

Kenworthy also has instituted a biennial “chairmen’s dinner,” inviting everyone who ever headed a BAFTA committee or jury. “It was one of those blessed evenings,” he recalls. “People flew in from Santa Barbara, from Spain. Dickie Attenborough, our president, gave a 40-minute speech that was incredibly inspirational. Our current council suddenly realized that they are just the tenants of an organization that has an enormous history, and it really re-energized them.”

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