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For foreign film, form follows dysfunction

BAFTA: Down to the Wire - Foreign Films

Despite all of BAFTA’s efforts to level the playing field, its award for film not in the English language remains its most problematic.

BAFTA’s democratic voting system means that the willingness of distributors to send out screeners to all 6,500 members has a disproportionate influence in deciding the winner.

Because of the prohibitive cost, voters receive only a handful of foreign films on DVD, and those titles usually end up hogging the nominations.

This year’s screeners will include Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In,” Francois Ozon’s “Potiche,” Irish helmer Juanita Wilson’s Bosnian drama “As if I Am Not There,” Diego Luna’s “Abel” and Pablo Larrain’s “Post Mortem.”

But there are no plans to mail out such leading contenders as the Iranian Oscar entry “A Separation,” 2010 Academy Award winner “In a Better World,” acclaimed doc “Pina” — or the vast majority of the 46 entered films. (In contrast to the Oscars, any film with a U.K. theatrical release is qualified to enter.)

Artificial Eye is laying on screenings of “A Separation” and “Pina,” and putting both films online for voters to view, but Axiom is not campaigning for “In a Better World.”

“As strong as titles such as ‘In a Better World’ are, (as) independent distributor we can’t always mount full campaigns of this nature post-release, especially in the current climate,” says Axiom’s Nick Pourgourides. “In particular with this title, it was an especially difficult decision and not one we reached lightly.”

Indeed, some small distribs don’t even bother to fill out the entry forms, arguing that it’s too hard to get attention for foreign pics amid the deluge of awards season, with little financial upside to justify the time and expense of campaigning.

Nanni Moretti’s “We Have a Pope” and Joachim Trier’s “Oslo, August 31” from Soda Pictures, and Jose Padilha’s “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within” from Revolver, are among the critically acclaimed 2011 releases that have not even been entered for this year’s BAFTA race.

In the past couple of years, BAFTA has done its best to address this problem by creating a foreign chapter to decide the nominees, and by launching an online viewing platform to provide distribs with a cheaper alternative to mailing out DVDs. The 1,600 chapter members, including 275 based in the U.S., promise to make an extra effort to view as many contenders as possible.

Distribs welcome these innovations, while remaining skeptical that they have yet made any significant difference.

This year, BAFTA has further tweaked the rules by introducing a preliminary round of chapter voting to select a longlist of 15 titles, before the chapter picks the five nominees and then the whole membership votes for the winner. The org hopes this extra step will focus attention more effectively upon the most worthy titles, even without DVD screeners.

BAFTA has also arranged for distribs to make their foreign pics available via iTunes. The academy’s website carries instructions for technophobic members about how to hook their laptop up to their TV. But it’s still early days for such experiments.

“I think serious contenders will need discs,” says one awards publicist. “The iTunes thing may be beyond the skills of the members.”

BAFTA: DOWN TO THE WIRE:
Documentaries | Foreign Films | The Orange Rising Star Award

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