Culture: Why I was wrong about the Baftas

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The Independent Culture

As a member of Bafta, I'm currently being bombarded with emails inviting me to screenings of films that distributors believe are in the running for awards. This is a reminder that, for industry insiders, the awards season has already begun, even though the first big "kudosfest" isn't until 11 January when the Golden Globes are broadcast.

The Baftas used to take place in either April or May, making them, at best, an addendum to the awards season. However, Amanda Berry, their chief executive since 2000, decided to bring the ceremony forward to February in 2002, thereby raising their profile.

Next year, for instance, the Baftas will be held on 8 February, nine days before the final votes are cast in the Academy Awards ballot. Rightly or wrongly, the Hollywood studios believe that winning a Bafta can boost a film's chances of winning an Oscar, so they now take them much more seriously.

One indication of this is that the studios send every Bafta member DVDs of the films they believe are Oscar contenders, even if those films aren't going to be released in the UK until next year.

Technically, a film has to have come out between 1 January and 31 December in the previous year to be eligible for a Bafta, but the studios get around this by inviting the members to specially arranged screenings. Provided a film has been screened in this way before 18 December, the studios are allowed to send a DVD to the entire membership.

Last year, for instance, the Coen brothers' adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men wasn't released in the UK until 18 January, but because Paramount Pictures shipped a DVD to Bafta's members before the nomination deadline of 5 January, it went on to win Best Picture. That is to say, it was judged by Bafta to have been the best film to have come out in 2007, even though it wasn't released until 2008.

Six years ago, when Berry decided to bring the Baftas forward, I was one of several critics who lambasted her for trying to increase the relevance of our own academy awards by foreshadowing the American ones. I now admit I was wrong. It was a masterstroke.