The Britannia Awards on Oct. 27 honoring Matt Damon, Dick Van Dyke, Ava DuVernay, Claire Foy and Kenneth Branagh is the very public face of BAFTA Los Angeles. The org also recently announced a partnership with IGN Entertainment, which will exclusively live-stream the glitzy event to viewers across the globe.
But behind the glamorous ceremony lies an equally important aspect: the day-to-day, gritty hard work of organizing and running its year-round programs of learning events and inner city outreach initiatives which include everything from workshops and master-classes to scholarships, lectures and mentoring schemes in the U.K., U.S. and Asia.
“At its core, BAFTA is an educational non-profit, and the outreach program in L.A. is a big part of what we do behind the scenes and it’s been going for 12 years now,” says Chantal Rickards, CEO of BAFTA L.A. “We began with a weekend screening event in a park in South-Central [L.A.], and we’d bring down a big screen, a taco truck and popcorn machines, but it was considered to be a fairly scary proposition back then, as there was a lot of crime locally. In fact, BAFTA was part of the negotiations between parks and rec and the local gangs when we proposed the program, to help make the park a more family-friendly, crime-free zone, and it became a big success.”
So much so, that the organization didn’t hold the screenings this summer as they had been taken over by the local authorities. “But clearly it was a totally novel idea to begin with, especially the idea of plummy Brits heading down to South-Central to try and teach kids about film and the arts,” she says.
“BAFTA does 1,000 hours of community outreach in the area, and many members, including Jason Isaacs and [makeup artist] Donald Mowat volunteer their time to help run various after-school TV and film programs for what we feel is an under-served community.
“These are all extremely well-attended, and we know that they’re very effective in teaching the kids how to tell a story, how to use a camera, how to work with props and how to work with makeup and hair, and so on. And the result is that they also grow in confidence, the truancy rates are lower, and they learn basic skills.”
BAFTA L.A. also runs a weekend program in which “busloads of kids from South-Central [are brought] to the New York Film Academy in Burbank, and put through a nine-weekend program and visit the back lot at Universal where we let them loose,” she says. “It’s all done by volunteers, and we’ll put the kids on real sets and show them how to write scripts, how to direct and produce, how to put a team together — and there are so many things that come out of this education process. It allows them to see that they can be a part of the world of film, TV and stage, that Hollywood could be their world and their future. Because, while it’s only 20 miles away from South-Central, in the past I think it’s seemed — and been — unattainable to many of these kids.”
Sessions often start with credit rolls, “which traditionally come at the end, and what we’re saying is, ‘You could be any one of those people. Your name could be up there too.’”
“It allows them to see that they can be a part of the world of film, TV, stage.”
Since last year BAFTA L.A. has also awarded scholarships to kids from South- Central. This year a second High Flyers scholarship, which will be funded from an auction of portraits of the Britannia honorees by British artist Lincoln Townley, was launched. A student from George Washington Prep in South L.A. will receive funds to help transition to higher education. Townley gave up his fees for the scholarship.
“We had one kid who interned with us last summer and who’s now going to Santa Monica College to study creative writing,” adds Rickards. “So we’re seeing tangible results and it makes us very proud.”
Looking ahead, BAFTA L.A. is also gradually expanding its Student Film Awards, which started off as a Los Angeles initiative and then went global this year for the first time. 2017’s finalists were selected from more than 400 submissions by students at film schools in 15 countries, including Argentina, Austria, Canada, China, Germany, India, Israel, Lebanon, South Africa and the U.K.
“The bottom line is that here at BAFTA L.A., we want to be more out-facing in the future and to keep giving back to the community,” she says. “And the outreach we’re doing in South Central is a huge part of that.”