After the backlash against Roma winning Best Picture at this year’s BAFTA Film Awards, the British Academy is holding firm on its qualification criteria.

Yesterday came the very welcome news from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts – BAFTA – that it was adding a new Casting Award to its annual gongs. It’s very welcome news, and the award will be added to both BAFTA’s television and film prizes.

But also in the midst of that came the news that BAFTA, for its film awards, is keeping its film eligibility rules as they are.

You may recall that earlier this year, the Vue and Cineworld cinema chains objected to BAFTA voting Roma as its best picture at this year’s film awards. The argument was that Roma wasn’t a film allowed anything more than a token qualifying run in cinemas, and that exhibitors weren’t able to book the film for wider release.

The counter-argument goes, of course, that which cinema chain – outside of the independents – was likely to devote a large chunk of its screens to a film in a foreign language and presented in black and white. Nonetheless, the argument remained that this was a film primarily for streaming services, and not for cinema.

Since the furore broke out, BAFTA has consulted with the industry extensively, and has opted to leave the status quo as it is. The option it was facing was increasing the minimum required theatrical release window for a movie to make a film eligible for its awards. At the moment, films qualify if they’ve been available theatrically to a paying audience on at least ten screens in the UK, for at least seven days.

That’s how things are going to stay too. BAFTA figures that too many films – not least smaller productions that multiplex chains aren’t as a rule interested in – would be excluded were this extended.

The organisation did add that “this year the film committee will not tolerate a token release just to qualify and will be looking at this in detail”.

Whether the cinema chains will be as loud in their protest again remains to be seen. But all eyes are also on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Netflix’s big awards film for this year. The movie has already been confirmed to close this year’s London Film Festival, and quite what length of theatrical release the film ultimately gets is unclear at this time.

Expect the argument to get louder if Netflix holds this one back…

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