Three-time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker, best-known for her editing work on Martin Scorsese movies such as “Raging Bull” and “Goodfellas,” will receive the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ highest accolade, the BAFTA Fellowship, at the EE British Academy Film Awards on Feb. 10.
The BAFTA Fellowship is given to an individual in recognition of “an outstanding and exceptional contribution” to film, games or television. Those previously honored in film include Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Elizabeth Taylor, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Scorsese and Sidney Poitier. Ridley Scott received the fellowship at last year’s awards.
Schoonmaker said she was “staggered to be asked to join such an illustrious group” and “particularly moved and honored to be joining two of the most important people in my life – my director, Martin Scorsese, and my late husband, Michael Powell.”
She added: “British cinema has been a huge influence on Martin Scorsese and through his teachings on me, I am blessed to be able to help him with the continuing restoration of the Powell and Pressburger legacy.”
Schoonmaker’s career has spanned more than 50 years, and her partnership with Scorsese has resulted in nine BAFTA nominations and seven Academy Award nods. She won BAFTAs for best editing for “Raging Bull” in 1982 and “Goodfellas” in 1991, and Oscars in the same category for “Raging Bull” (1981), “The Aviator” (2005) and “The Departed” (2007).
Born in Algiers in 1940, Schoonmaker moved to the U.S. as a teenager and attended Cornell University, studying political science and Russian. After graduating in 1961, she began an art course at Columbia University but saw an ad for a trainee assistant film editor position, applied, and got the job.
She then signed up for a six-week course in filmmaking at New York University, where she met Scorsese after a professor asked if she could help him salvage the badly mangled negative of his student film “What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This?” In 1967, Schoonmaker helped Scorsese edit his first feature film, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” marking the start of a partnership that continues to this day.
While at NYU, Schoonmaker also met filmmaker Michael Wadleigh and later in 1970 supervised the editing of his influential music documentary “Woodstock,” earning Schoonmaker her first Academy Award nomination for editing in 1971.
Despite this early success, the first part of Schoonmaker’s career was difficult; joining the Motion Picture Editors Guild in Los Angeles was challenging, with Schoonmaker not meeting the entry requirements despite her Oscar nomination, which meant that she was unable to work in L.A.
Consequently, there was a 12-year gap between her early work with Scorsese until “Raging Bull’s” producer Irwin Winkler resolved the guild issue so she could edit that film.
Schoonmaker has edited every feature film directed by Scorsese since “Raging Bull.” That includes “The Irishman,” which is set to be released by Netflix this year.
Schoonmaker was married to Powell from 1984 until his death in 1990, and she has worked tirelessly to honor his legacy and preserve his films.
The BAFTA Film Awards ceremony takes place on Feb. 10 at the Royal Albert Hall in London.