Suffolk woman champions film awards

The BAFTAs are growing in stature and are now widely regarded as an important guide to the way the Oscars are likely go. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to Amanda Berry, BAFTA's chief executive, about the rising profile of those British film awards.

By Andrew Clarke

The BAFTAs are growing in stature and are now widely regarded as an important guide to the way the Oscars are likely go. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke spoke to Amanda Berry, BAFTA's chief executive, about the rising profile of those British film awards.

Today the BAFTAs - the British Academy of Film and Television Arts - film awards are one of the most important events on the cinema calendar and are now widely acknowledged as being one of the most accurate indicators of the way that Oscar voters are thinking.

This change in BAFTA's fortunes has been brought about by Suffolk resident and BAFTA's chief executive Amanda Berry who made the moving of the BAFTA awards one of her first jobs when she joined the academy in 1998. “I pulled that first awards ceremony together in just nine weeks,” she says.


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She says that the move wasn't designed to increase BAFTAs standing on the world stage but rather to provide a means of sparing a lot of celebrity backsides. “The original event combined both the film and TV awards and went on forever. It needed separating out. Also it was at the wrong time of year and one half of the event didn't really relate to the other half. It works much better now that the film and television awards are now two different events, happening at different times of the year.”

She said that the placement of the awards two weeks before the Oscars was a good move but during a very crowded awards season required a lot of international negotiations to claim such a coveted slot.

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“An awards ceremony is judged on the number of high profile guests it can attract. As the BAFTAs are the British film industry's leading awards event it is vitally important that we have a good showing. The eight weeks between the end of January and the beginning of March are very crowded especially since the Oscars have moved their event forward by two weeks.

“By gaining a February slot we stand a much better chance of getting more of the high profile nominees to attend. The main stars are having to decide which events to attend. There are The Golden Globes, The Screen Actors Guild Awards, the National Board of review Awards and those are all in America. We have to make the stars, directors, writers and technicians want to step on a plane and fly to London rather than going to an event in Los Angeles. We have to be realistic and realise that we have to offer them something special to make them want to come all that way.”

She says that the high regard that their event is held in and America's continuing love affair with the British Film Industry mean that the BAFTAs usually have a star-filled guest blist…”But it is not something that we take for granted.”

As a result, this year Amanda is moving the event away from London's film capital Leicester Square, away from the cinemas to the plush surroundings of Covent Garden and the sparkling, re-modelled Royal Opera House.

Even though this means bringing in and installing digital projection equipment, Amanda believes that it is worth the hassle to provide their guests with comfortable surroundings. “You probably don't see this on television but the Odeon Leicester Square is a fairly cramped venue for an event like this and there's virtually no room on stage for the awards presentations and since the auditorium was given a make over they have lost over a 100 seats, so we really needed to find somewhere bigger.”

She added that not only was the Royal Opera House larger, it was also more geared up for multi-media events and offers an excellent press facility where at the Odeon we were pushing all the press into a tent outside the building.”

She said that it was gratifying that the BAFTAs in recent years have become regarded as one of the top three awards along with The Golden Globes and The Oscars. She is also pleased that in recent years British films and British talent have done so well not only in the BAFTAs but in awards ceremonies around the world.

“British actors, British technicians and British films have always had a terrific reputation. They are always highly regarded and they can compete on equal terms with the best films around the world. The British film industry is particularly healthy at the moment as we can see from the increasing box office returns and the number of films in production both indigenous British movies as well as Hollywood films coming to shoot in Britain - making use of our skills and studio space.”

One thing that Amanda is firm on is that the BAFTAs do not exist to reward just British movies. “We get accused of this all the time but the BAFTAs have never been about just rewarding British movies. It is the British industry's opportunity to reward what our members regard as the best films in a given year from across the world. The most pleasing aspect of recent years has been the fact that so many award-winners have had a strong British element to them.”

She added that with film financing being so complex now, it was difficult to determine what films were British merely from the budget point of view. Most films, even Hollywood movies, are increasingly international, as the money comes from a variety of different sources and funding companies.”

She said the only pro-British element to the awards could be found in the The Alexander Korda Award for the Outstanding British Film of the Year and The Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a British Director, Writer or Producer in their First Feature Film. Everything else was a celebration of worldwide cinema.

“It's to our forever lasting credit that Britain can compete on equal terms with movies from across the world. We're not in the business of handing out consolation prizes or rigging the contest in favour of just British films. The film industry is an international event and we should be taking our place on the world stage.”

She said that a stable economy with clear and simple tax breaks was what needed to energise the British film industry further. The studios, the post-production facilities are second to none as are the crews and our actors are some of the best in the world. Hollywood recognises this by bringing their productions here to shoot. But we cannot afford to be complacent as many countries are offering financial incentives for production companies to shoot elsewhere - particularly in Eastern Europe. In the past Ireland and the Isle of Man have set up lucrative tax deals, so we have to make sure that we offer good quality production facilities as well as a beneficial tax situation.”

She said that it was the job of BAFTA to promote the British Film Industry across the world as well as setting the annual awards ceremony. “I am delighted that in the last six or seven years, the BAFTA awards has gone from merely being shown in the UK to being broadcast in 231 territories worldwide. It is now seen by more people than the Oscars, that's a marvellous place to be.”

Amanda said that her own career has taken her from being a dry cleaners daughter from North Yorkshire to one of the most powerful figures in the film and television industry with a home on and a great love of the Suffolk coast.

“I was originally a TV producer and theatrical agent after spending time in PR and having experienced life as a production trainee at Thames Television. I came to BAFTA in the later 1990s and was appointed chief executive in 2000. I regard Southwold as my bolt hole in the country - my escape from the pressures of life in London and a means to come back down to earth. It's a wonderful place like that - a real leveller. When you spend a week trying to make sure that someone is going to fly in from LA to either present an award or receive a reward, your sorting out hotels and flight times, it's great just to drive down to Southwold, switch off and enjoy life in a real place with a wonderful view of the world from a Suffolk point of view.”

But, she admits that at the moment with preparations for the BAFTA Film Awards now in full swing, she's not likely to have anytime to return to her favourite bolt hole until after this year's ceremony is over and all the clearing up has taken place.

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