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How BAFTA Breakthrough Aims to Foster U.K.-China Cultural Exchange

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts this week extended its growing “Breakthrough” talent initiative to China. The academy is partnering with financier Yu Holdings to launch BAFTA Breakthrough China at the Shanghai International Film Festival, with British actor Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers,” “The Night Manager”) set as an ambassador for the scheme.

BAFTA chief executive Amanda Berry, Hiddleston and Yu Holdings founder Wendy Yu explain why outreach is so important.

Berry: “Yesterday we announced BAFTA Breakthrough China with Wendy and Yu Holdings. It is an extraordinary exciting time for us. It is six years of from our launch of ‘Breakthrough Brits’ in the U.K.

“That is our leading new talent initiative. It identifies talent at the start of their career, who the people that they are working with recognize are real talents, in front of and behind the camera, across film, television, and games.

“What makes me particularly proud about the Breakthrough scheme is that we don’t just do a single event, and shine a very bright spotlight on these people. We bring them into the BAFTA family. We look after them for a year. And the truth is that they never leave the BAFTA family, because a couple of years on they are then supporting the next generation.

“The idea is that whatever support they need, we will find. So, we ask them who they would like to meet, what challenges they are facing, and we help them with that. We look after them for a year to allow them to go on to the next stage of their career.

“I’m proud that 45% of people who have been through Breakthrough Brits have become BAFTA nominees or winners. It has become a scheme that is very successful at identifying the people who will go on and achieve.

“It has always been our ambition to take it globally. We’ve also been doing events in Hong Kong and mainland China for six years. And the timing seems absolutely right to take Breakthrough globally. It is our first outreach, and is a natural succession of the activity we’ve been doing in China.

“We’ve been talking to Wendy Yu for a number of years. Because our values and ambitions are absolutely aligned, Wendy is the perfect partner to launch BAFTA Breakthrough China.

“We are reaching out to the film, television and games industries here to get them to put forward the people who are talented at the start of their career. We will find mentors and the support network – in the same way as in the U.K., with individuals. The Breakthrough China winners will have the opportunity to go the U.K. to be mentored and to meet their peers. They do need to be English speakers.”

Hiddleston: “I’m becoming a BAFTA Breakthrough China ambassador because I really believe in it. I know that at the beginning of a creative career sometimes it can feel quite isolated. The best way to develop new skills, new confidence and to generate new inspiration is to meet your peers and people you’ve always admired. Observe them, ask them questions, what was it like when you did this, how did you prepare and practice, how do you sharpen your skills, how do you keep pushing yourself to new horizons.

“When I was younger, there was not a scheme like this, though I know that the most extraordinary results can be generated by connections and collaboration. I’ve seen firsthand in the U.K. how Breakthrough Brits does exactly that.

“There are often people at the beginning of their career – not necessarily young – and this gives the validation that they get from BAFTA. We’ve seen it in Letitia Wright, who was in “Black Panther” and “Avengers.” She won a BAFTA this year and, in her speech, mentioned how being a Breakthrough Brit changed her life. Tom Holland is also another former Breakthrough Brit.

“We have so much to learn from China. And we hope that the winners of the Breakthrough China award will have a lot to learn from BAFTA.

“On previous visits to China I have not had much contact with Chinese talent, but I have worked with a Chinese performer Jing Tian on ‘Kong Skull Island.’ It was always interesting to see her different preparations and different sense of humor.

“We were always asking her about WeChat. I don’t have a WeChat account of my own. But I do have a Weibo account, which I manage myself.”

Yu: “Yu Holdings invests in technology companies and fashion brands. Our mission is to connect investment with philanthropy, creativity and innovation from China and the rest of the world. We are supporters of the creative industries. We have partnerships and support designers and creatives.

“As a kid I was always very passionate about film, and was always inspired by the most creative and talented people. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a great designer. But I’m happy to support others.

“And as a Chinese I always wanted to give back to my community, and to see young Chinese film talents receive world-class training.

“For BAFTA to offer young talents their network, the mentoring, the workshops is a real cultural exchange. That also aligns with the mission of Yu Holdings.

“I lived in England for 12 years, founded the company, and started investment about three years ago.”

Berry: “Applications are open now. We close in mid-August. Then the jury will sit and decide on the five Breakthrough China winners. And we’ll be back in Shanghai in October to announce them. Much will depend on the applicants we receive. But we would like to represent films, games and television. But there is no predetermined number per genre. We have not announced the jury yet.”

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