Tim Richards, the founder and chief executive of Vue International, one of the largest cinema chains in Europe, has slammed the British Academy of Film and Television Arts for awarding prizes to Netflix’s “Roma.”
Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white film, which is also up for several Oscars, won four BAFTAs at the awards ceremony in London on Feb. 10.
In an open letter released Monday to BAFTA chief executive Amanda Berry, Richards said that “BAFTA has not lived up to its usual high standards this year in choosing to endorse and promote a ‘made for TV’ film that audiences were unable to see on a big screen.”
He said that Netflix had made at best a “token effort” to screen “Roma” theatrically in Britain, “screening it to less than 1% of the U.K. market solely because it wanted an award.”
“How could BAFTA let this happen?” Richards asked in the letter.
Exhibitors throughout Europe have already expressed their opposition to the inclusion of Netflix films in competition at the continent’s most famous film festivals. Richards’ letter takes aim at an organization that gives out the most prestigious film awards outside the U.S.
A BAFTA spokesperson commented that the organization’s film committee “is satisfied that every film in contention” for this year’s awards “met the criteria for entry, which includes a meaningful U.K. theatrical release.”
In the letter, Richards said that “Netflix is well-known for its tactics and secrecy” and that its release strategy for “Roma” in the U.K. “was no exception.”
“It is still unclear whether ‘Roma’ was screened on more than the 13 Curzon Cinema screens representing less than 0.5% of the cinema market and for one week at the Filmhouse Edinburgh,” he said. “Not knowing how many people have seen ‘Roma,’ where it was screened or what level of box office it delivered is another example of how Netflix acts outside the industry whilst at the same time it craves its acceptance,” he wrote.
He urged BAFTA, the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and major film festivals to continue “to differentiate between a ‘made for TV’ movie and a first-run feature film with a full theatrical release, as they have for the last 100 years.”
The Vue chief also threatened to withdraw the company’s support of the BAFTA awards unless “it reconsiders its eligibility criteria.”
In what may amount to a possible olive branch, the BAFTA spokesperson said the organization reviews its criteria annually “in close consideration with the industry too ensure that our eligibility criteria remain fit for purpose.”
The issue of whether “Roma” should be allowed to play in movie theaters and simultaneously on the streaming giant has been a hot-button topic ever since the film world premiered at the Venice Film Festival last September. Italy’s exhibitors’ organization said they would not release the film on their screens last year. But “Roma” did get a tiny Italian release in a few independent non-member venues. On Tuesday, “Roma” was nominated in the foreign-language category for a David di Donatello Award, which is Italy’s equivalent of the BAFTAs.