Org makes major changes to film awards

LONDON — BAFTA has announced a major revamp of its voting system for next year’s British Academy Film Awards.

There will only be two rounds of polling, instead of three, and the balance of voting power between the specialist chapters and the full membership is being significantly altered.

These changes have been debated within BAFTA for several years, but were triggered by the fact that AMPAS started discussing the possibility of moving the Academy Awards ceremony to an earlier date.

Even though the Oscars are staying put for now in late February, AMPAS has moved its nomination announcement onto BAFTA’s traditional date in mid-January. This focused the minds of BAFTA toppers on the need to streamline their own process, so that the British org can announce its nominations a week earlier on Jan. 9.

“The decision was taken due to the simplicity and clarity of a two-round system, not to mention its potential to involve members more,” said Nik Powell, chair of BAFTA’s film committee.

Previously, the first round of voting, with a deadline in early January, resulted in a longlist of 15 contenders in each category. This was then narrowed down to five nominees in the second round a couple of weeks later, with the winners chosen in the third round.

But in the coming year’s awards, the first round will choose the five nominees, with a voting deadline on Jan. 4, and the second round in early February will decide the winners.

As previously, the whole film voting membership will choose both nominees and winners in five categories — best film, and the four acting awards.

However, for the first time, the whole membership will also vote for the winners in all 11 “below-the-line” categories, but the nominees will be picked by the chapters alone.

This applies to adapted and original screenplay, direction, cinematography, editing, costume design, make-up & hair, original music, production design, sound and special visual effects.

That reverses the previous system, where the whole membership voted in the first and second rounds (but with the top five chapter preferences identified on the first round longlists, to guide the membership in its choice of nominees), and then the chapters alone voted for the winners.

Alongside these changes, BAFTA will take a more proactive role in instructing members to abstain from voting in categories where they don’t consider themselves qualified to judge, and will also send out a clear message that it expects members to abstain in the final round in any category where they have not seen all five nominees.

There’s also a new system for animation, documentary, film not in the English language and outstanding British film. These awards will be decided by “opt-in” chapters, which will decide both the nominees and the winners.

Unlike the specialist chapters for the craft awards, which are restricted to voters with particular experience in those areas, these four chapters will be open to any BAFTA members who volunteer to join.

Only one category remains unaltered, with a jury still deciding the nominees and winners for outstanding feature debut by a British writer, director or producer. A jury will also choose the nominees for the live-action and animated short prizes, with the winners decided by opt-in chapters.

Opponents of the changes argue that they make the BAFTA system too similar to the Oscars, making the British awards less distinctive. By giving the whole membership the final say in a much larger number of awards, some fear this will result in less nuanced choices, and increase the likelihood of one popular film sweeping all the prizes.

BAFTA usually delivers a healthy spread of awards, with even overwhelming favorites such as “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist” maxing out at seven wins. But BAFTA toppers say their research indicates the new system won’t make sweeps more likely.

At the same time, BAFTA is consulting with its members on a change to its membership rules, which will require film voters to prove they are still active in the industry. This is intended to address the problem that some BAFTA members have left the industry after a relatively brief career, but keep paying their dues so that they can vote in the film awards. Meanwhile, many experienced people cannot gain membership of the academy because there are no places available.

“It’s our duty as an academy of excellence to make sure we have the best quality of membership,” said BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry.

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