BAFTAs, Oscars split on foreign films

Diverse eligibility requirements affect races

Foreign-language films are where BAFTA breaks step with the Oscars. The voting system is markedly different, with only four of this year’s 65 Oscar entries having qualified for the 2010 BAFTAs.

These are “A Prophet” from France, “The White Ribbon” from Germany, “Harishchandrachi Factory” from India and the U.K.’s own “Afghan Star.” They are among 40 eligible contenders, including “Broken Embraces,” “Coco Before Chanel,” “Let the Right One In,” “Mesrine,” “The Class” and 2008 Oscar winner “Departures.”

Films not in English enter the BAFTAs simply by receiving a U.K. release in the qualifying year. The award used to be decided by jury, but now a foreign chapter of nearly 2,000 voters picks the nominees, with the winner chosen by the entire 5,000-plus membership.

It’s a system that favors the more populist end of the foreign-language spectrum. The challenge is making sure those in the large chapter get to see all the films.

Distribs are reluctant to send out screeners, particularly for esoteric titles, because the cost outweighs the financial benefit. Many don’t even bother with screenings. Quizzed about a candidate released early in the year, one distrib said, “It’s out on DVD. The voters can buy it.”

As a result, the handful of films that do send out screeners, typically the more commercial titles, usually get all the nominations.

This year, Artificial Eye has decided against sending out Cannes Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon.” Director Michael Haneke’s previous failure to get BAFTA nominated for “Hidden,” for which screeners weren’t sent out, shocked the BAFTA committee into shaking up the foreign-language voting, but there’s a danger he could suffer the same fate again.

BAFTA is studying a solution to stream all the qualified films via a secure website in order to level the playing field. The idea has the support of distribs, but that system probably won’t be ready for this year’s awards.

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