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The first round of voting has opened for the 2021 BAFTA film awards, the first to take place following last year’s watershed review into diversity that saw more 120 changes implemented by the British Academy, considered the biggest shakeup in its history.
Among the changes that BAFTA’s almost 7,000 voting members will already have noticed is a selection of 15 films each member is being asked to watch, randomly selected from across the categories and mixing up the biggest titles and less well known films.
This new initiative is all part of what BAFTA chair Krishnendu Majumdar says is aimed at helping “level the playing field, to get more people to watch more stuff, more films and judge them” and to counteract previous concerns that smaller titles were simply being ignored.
All submitted films are now being made available on BAFTA’s new streaming platform, BAFTA View, where there have already been more than 80,000 streams to date. Despite a COVID-19 impacted year in cinema, the number of entries is remarkably similar to 2020, dipping only slightly from 269 — the biggest year on record — to 258.
Other immediate changes are three short ‘conscious voter’ videos on the BAFTA site that members must watch before voting.
“A lot of people said they wanted to understand and be briefed about the issues around unconscious bias,” says film committee chair Marc Samuelson. “Essentially, they’re quite academic and explain, from a psychological perspective, what the processes are that are going on, where you are being influenced and the things that you can do to not let that happen.”
BAFTA has already seen a major spike in members filling in its diversity survey, which is now compulsory for those voting. Majumdar said that previously they had around 33 percent of film voters responding, whereas now they’re already up to 86 percent and is confident it will pass 90 percent. The information from the survey is aimed at helping the Academy focus the direction of its push for new members, with it already having committed to inviting 1,000 from underrepresented groups in the two cycles. Samuelson said that 300 had already been invited over the past few weeks, with 168 joining.
Other changes that will be noticed as voting gathers pace are increases to the number of nominations in the performance and director categories from 5 to 6 and in the outstanding British director category from 5 to 10, alongside new juries in round two. BAFTA will also for the first time announce longlists for all categories.
As for the film awards ceremony itself, while BAFTA has already announced the date April 11, with the U.K currently under a major lockdown and government advice on congregations of people changing constantly, Majumda says they’re looking at all possible options, big and small. “We’ll plan a big event with over 2,000 people and then one with 1,000 people, then one with less and one that’s online,” he said. “We have to plan for every eventuality.”
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