'Raging Bull,' 'Goodfellas' Editor Thelma Schoonmaker to Receive BAFTA Fellowship

Photographed By Wesley Mann
Thelma Schoonmaker

The honor will be presented during the BAFTA awards ceremony on Feb. 10.

The British Academy is set to bestow its highest honor, the BAFTA Fellowship, on renowned editor and longtime Martin Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker.

The award will be presented at the BAFTA Awards ceremony on Feb. 10, with Schoonmaker joining a growing list of recipients that includes the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Elizabeth Taylor, Stanley Kubrick, Ken Loach, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Martin Scorsese and Helen Mirren. Last year, Ridley Scott received the fellowship. 

"I am staggered to be asked to join such an illustrious group as the BAFTA Fellows and particularly moved and honored to be joining two of the most important people in my life — my director, Martin Scorsese, and my late husband, Michael Powell (and his partner Emeric Pressburger) — all of whom have been given BAFTA Fellowships," said Schoonmaker. "The British Cinema has been a huge influence on Martin Scorsese and through his teachings on me, I am blessed to be able to help him with the continuing restoration of the Powell and Pressburger legacy. I give my deepest thanks to BAFTA for honoring that work and my work as Scorsese's editor with this fellowship." 

Schoonmaker’s acclaimed career has spanned over 50 years, and her celebrated partnership with Scorsese has garnered nominations for nine BAFTA Awards, winning best editing in 1982 for Raging Bull, Goodfellas in 1991 and seven Academy Award nominations, winning the award for Raging Bull, The Aviator and The Departed

Born in Algiers in 1940, Schoonmaker moved to the United States as a teenager and attended Cornell University, studying political science and Russian. After graduating from Cornell in 1961, she began a course at Columbia University in primitive art. During this time Schoonmaker responded to an advertisement in The New York Times for a trainee assistant film editor and got the job. She then signed up for a brief six-week course in filmmaking at New York University, where she came into contact with a young Scorsese after a professor asked that she could help him salvage the badly mangled negative of his student film; What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? Subsequently in 1967 Schoonmaker went on to help Scorsese edit his first feature film, Who’s That Knocking at My Door, marking the beginning of an illustrious filmmaking partnership, which continues to this day (she worked on The Irishman, which is set to be released by Netflix in 2019).

While at New York University, Schoonmaker also met filmmaker Michael Wadleigh and later in 1970 supervised the editing of his influential music documentary Woodstock, earning Schoonmaker her first Academy Award nomination for best editing in 1971.

Despite this early success the first part of Schoonmaker’s career was difficult; joining the Motion Picture Editors Guild in Los Angeles was challenging with Schoonmaker not meeting the entry requirements despite her Academy Award nomination, meaning she was unable to work in Los Angeles. Consequently, there was a 12-year gap between her early work with Scorsese, until Raging Bull’s producer Irwin Winkler resolved the Guild issue so she could edit the film.

Schoonmaker has gone on to edit every single feature film directed by Scorsese since Raging Bull. Schoonmaker’s work on The King of Comedy, Cape Fear, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street all earned her BAFTA Award nominations with Schoonmaker winning for Raging Bull and Goodfellas.

"We are thrilled to honor Thelma Schoonmaker with a BAFTA Fellowship, celebrating her career as one of the film industry’s most respected editors responsible for some of cinema’s most iconic and treasured moments," said BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry.