BIFA: How We Overhauled Our Voting System to Give Films a Fair Shot (Column)

Ahead of tonight’s BAFTA Awards in London, Amy Gustin and Deena Wallace, co-directors of the British Independent Film Awards (BIFA), discuss how they shook up their awards’ voting mechanisms to become more inclusive of a wider variety of films and filmmakers. 

BIFA is different from other awards bodies in its process as well as its purpose. We’re here to champion British independent film and new filmmakers. To do that well, it’s vital that we give every film and filmmaker a fair shot.

Tempting as it may be, we aren’t going to join the chorus of BAFTA-bashing: the public and industry outcry over the lack of diversity in their nominations has already illuminated problems that need to be addressed.

However, we do admit to having a little fun on social at their expense: it was too good an opportunity to pass up to highlight some of the exceptional BIFA winners and nominees this year, who aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Examples include the all-female wins in Debut Director, Debut Screenwriter and Breakthrough Producer, and Sam Adewunmi and Ruthxjiah Bellenea’s victories for “The Last Tree” (pictured).

When we took over BIFA five years ago, we had an opportunity to get under the bonnet of how its voting process worked. BIFA has always been about celebrating the best and most exciting new British talent. To continue to do that job properly, we needed to make sure that our process was as inclusive and rigorous as it could be.

Popular on Variety

We started with the voters. We radically expanded our voting pool by recruiting from past nominees and winners, as well as having an open call for new people. The requirements to be a BIFA voter are relatively easy to meet, which makes for a younger voting body. We also approach underrepresented groups and individuals and encourage them to join up, to ensure that voters are representative of the diversity of the U.K.

We added extra categories to showcase the best new British talent and we publish the lists of filmmakers who make it through the first round of voting. This allows us to put the spotlight on a bigger group of promising new filmmakers.

We are open to films that have had a single festival screening, and so are inclusive of a wider variety of films and filmmakers. We also pinpoint and approach films from underrepresented filmmakers by contacting festivals and film organizations that champion those groups.

And once we have assembled a representative set of voters and have been as inclusive as we can of all work being made in the U.K., we start the voting process.

The principle is simple: everything has to be seen, discussed and given a fair shot.

We make sure that every film entry is seen by a minimum number of voters in each category for which it is entered and that every film is discussed. We make sure that each voter sees a minimum proportion of the entered films in their category.

We also ask all of our voters to undergo ScreenSkills-funded unconscious bias training, so that they are aware of the factors that might affect their decisions as they make them. And, importantly, when calculating the voting results, we take into account how many voters have seen a film as well as how many voters voted for it. This way, a film seen by 15 voters is at no disadvantage against a film seen by 150.

We know the way we do things isn’t perfect and are always open to suggestions to improve it. Many of the changes we’ve made over the last five years have been as a direct result of listening to our voters. We think it’s our responsibility to run BIFA in a manner in which independent filmmakers can be proud of.

All of this is important to us because we have an influential platform and although we can only judge what is made in any given year, we can influence what will be made in the future and who gets to make it. Showcasing underrepresented filmmakers helps to inspire the next generation of talent: visibility is important. This is a question that should be addressed seriously.

Amy Gustin and Deena Wallace are co-directors of BIFA. 

More Film

  • 'Charlatan' Review: Agnieszka Holland Shows Faith

    'Charlatan': Film Review

    At several points in “Charlatan,” the camera looks glossily on as our protagonist holds small bottles of amber liquid to the light, academically scrutinizing their contents as they beam a light golden glow onto his features: an effect both ennobling and almost romantic. The man is Jan Mikolášek, a famous Czech herbalist and healer with [...]

  • Toho Cinemas at Tokyo Midtown Hibiya

    Japanese Cinemas To Refund Tickets in Virus Response

    In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Japanese film industry has begun to delay releases, close theaters and refund ticket purchases. The releases of the new “Doraemon” and “Jimaro” feature animations targeted at kids out of school for the spring break, have been delayed. The former was scheduled to open March 6, the latter on [...]

  • Blood on Her Name

    Film Review: ‘Blood on Her Name’

    In the opening moments of “Blood on Her Name,” an arrestingly twisty and suspenseful Southern noir thriller in the tradition of “One False Move,” we’re introduced to Leigh, the working-class protagonist played by Bethany Anne Lind, with a jarring close-up that is at once explicit and ambiguous. Her face is battered, her breathing is labored, [...]

  • Liev Schreiber Broadway

    Film News Roundup: Liev Schreiber Joins Will Smith's Tennis Drama 'King Richard'

    In today’s film news roundup, Liev Schreiber and retired pro footballer Vernon Davis score roles, Jason Blum will speak at his alma mater, Irish drama “Rialto” finds a U.S. distributor and “1917” hits a box office milestone. CASTINGS Liev Schreiber will portray tennis coach Paul Cohen in Warner Bros.’ “King Richard” opposite Will Smith. Reinaldo [...]

  • AMC theater

    AMC Entertainment Reports Mixed Fourth-Quarter Results

    AMC Entertainment has reported mixed fourth-quarter results, which saw revenues rise 2.4% to $1.45 billion, despite a 4.4% drop in U.S. attendance to 62.3 million. The exhibitor, owned by Dalian Wanda Group, announced a fourth-quarter loss of $13.5 million, compared to a year-earlier profit of $170.6 million, due to $84.3 million of expense related to [...]

  • 'Straight Up' Review: James Sweeney's Gay

    'Straight Up': Film Review

    There’s a tradition in movies, as vital as a hypnotic action scene or a swooning love scene, of dialogue so witty and nimble and rapid-fire that it comes at you like something out of a stylized dream. I first encountered that brand of high-velocity verbal jousting in “A Hard Day’s Night,” and later on in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content