Magazine article Variety

Screener Play Sets Up Sizzling Foreign Fight

Magazine article Variety

Screener Play Sets Up Sizzling Foreign Fight

Article excerpt

Key distrib goes all in on sending out films, helping level field for category prize

LONDON

The decision by leading U.K. arthouse distrib Artificial Eye for the first time to send out screeners of its top foreign titles means that BAFTA's foreign film race is set to be more competitive than ever.

"Amour" and "The Kid With a Bike" from Artificial Eye will be among the contenders for the award, along with "Rust & Bone" from Studiocanal, "Headhunters" and "The Raid" from Momentum and "The Intouchables" from Entertainment Film Distributors.

"A Royal Affair" (Metrodome) and "The Hunt" (Arrow) could also be in the mix but will be handicapped if they don't use screeners.

Ever since BAFTA did away with jury voting for foreign film - or as BAFTA calls it, "film not in the English language" - it's been virtually impossible to win the prize and difficult even to snag a nomination without sending out screeners to all 6,500 voters.

In the past, this distorted the race, because most small arthouse distribs, including Artificial Eye, said they could not afford to use screeners, given the prohibitive cost and scant financial upside of winning.

As a result, a succession of foreign masterpieces have notoriously failed to get their due at BAFTA - from Michael Haneke's "Hidden" and "The White Ribbon" to "A Separation" and "Pina" last year.

Last year's shocking defeat of "A Separation" by Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In" amped the concern of many BAFTA members that the foreign category is decided not exclusively by merit, but also by box office, familiarity and, most significantly, the willingness of a distributor to spend money on DVDs.

"People had heard of Almodovar; it was just name recognition," argues Robert Beeson of New Wave Films.

BAFTA has worked hard over several years to analyze the problem, listen to the distributors' complaints and adjust its rules for voting and campaigning, in a bid to level the playing field. This seems finally to have brought Artificial Eye, at least, into the game.

"It's much harder in the foreignlanguage category to justify whether a win or a nomination actually translates into increased revenue for a film," says Philip Knatchbull, chief exec of Curzon Artificial Eye. "But BAFTA has really taken on board what we've been saying about the problems of the cost of campaigning and done everything in their power to make it cheaper, and for that we are very grateful.

"Our relationships with the filmmakers are very important, so sometimes that can be a factor in our decision," he adds. "And obviously a BAFTA win is a very strong endorsement which, in certain case, can add ancillary value."

The most significant change this year is that BAFTA's foreign chapter will now choose the winner of the award, not just the five nominees.

Previously, the whole membership voted for the winner, based on chapter nominations. Even when the chapter used its specialist knowledge to push through films without screeners, such as "A Separation" and "Pina," these were overlooked by the wider voters because they could not watch them without actually buying them.

BAFTA is also allowing distribs to target their campaigning exclusively at the foreign chapter. This has 1,700 members, so in theory it should be significantly cheaper to send them screeners than to blanket all 6,500 BAFTA voters.

Ironically, after lobbying for exactly this change, Artificial Eye will actually send out its foreign DVDs to the entire membership after all. That's because it has raised sponsorship for its box set, which includes its British titles "Berberian Sound Studio" and "Ginger & Rosa," so the marginal cost to Artificial Eye is negligible, and the sponsor, Film360 Magazine, wants to reach the widest possible BAFTA audience. …

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