Late arrivals get screened out of BAFTA

Films that are widely seen by time polling starts have advantage

“Better late than never” is not an adage that applies to the campaign for the British Academy Film Awards.

So tight are BAFTA’s voting deadlines and so great is the flood of screeners in late December that the advantage lies with films that managed to get themselves widely seen by the time polling started Dec. 11.

The first round of voting closes Jan. 3. So films that didn’t get screened or get screeners out to members until late December, when many voters have disappeared for the Christmas holidays or already have a backlog of DVDs to view, run the risk of being ignored.

Universal, recognizing its uphill battle to persuade members to watch the searing “United 93” because of widespread discomfort over its subject matter, got its DVD out first in early November. Par followed suit with “Babel,” another tough prospect that doesn’t get released theatrically in the U.K. until Jan. 18.

Entertainment, which never used to send out screeners before the advent of Cinea, also got out early with the DVD of “Little Children.” Soda Pictures quickly circulated “Keane,” the sort of low-profile movie that would almost certainly get lost in the rush if it came out in late December, thereby boosting the acting nom chances of lead Damian Lewis.

Meanwhile, buzz is starting to build from the first boffo members’ screenings of “Dreamgirls” and “Miss Potter,” neither of which are due for U.K. release until after the first voting deadline. Momentum smartly made sure that a lot of BAFTA members were invited to the U.K. premiere of “Miss Potter” on Dec. 3. Tipsters suggest that “Blood Diamond” could also make a late run.

Sienna Miller has emerged as a late candidate for the actress race, after the Weinstein Co. secured a qualifying Feb. 9 release date for “Factory Girl” just as BAFTA was closing its list of entries.

Also sneaking in under the consideration wire were “A Prairie Home Companion,” which might benefit for some sentimental support from Robert Altman fans, “Goya’s Ghosts” and “The Upside of Anger.” But in each case, the distribs will have to go some distance to make sure BAFTA members actually see the movies.