Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron with his Best Director Bafta in London. (AFP)
London, Feb. 17: The American space adventure, Gravity, picked up six Baftas at a glittering ceremony at the Royal Opera House in London last night, but the organisers have been taken to task for classifying the film as “British”.
The Baftas — run by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts — are supposed to be an indicator for the Oscars but many feel the British bend too much in an effort to please the Americans.
Gravity, which stars Hollywood actors George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, received 11 nominations and picked up Baftas for “Outstanding British Film” and best director for the London-based Mexican film-maker Alfonso Cuaron.
It won other prizes for visual effects, cinematography, best sound and original music.
The slavery drama, 12 Years A Slave, resisted the force of Gravity to pick up two of the big awards at this year’s Baftas. It won the leading actor award for its star Chiwetel Ejiofor and was named overall best film.
British director Steve McQueen collected the best film trophy and said: “Right now there are 21 million people in slavery. I just hope that 150 years from now our ambivalence will not allow another film-maker to make this film.” Cate Blanchett was named best actress for her role in the Woody Allen film Blue Jasmine.
The night ended with the honorary fellowship award for Dame Helen Mirren which was presented by the Duke of Cambridge who described her as “an extremely talented British actress who I should probably call granny” — a humorous reference to her leading role in The Queen (which the real Queen Elizabeth II is said not to have seen).
But much of the controversy centred around British attitude to Hollywood, which provides work for hundreds of actors and technicians in the UK.
Stephen Fry, who was presenting the Baftas for the ninth time, seemed to many viewers to be almost obsequious when he made Leonardo DiCaprio blow a kiss and the cameras pick out Christian Bale and Tom Hanks who all hogged the front seats.
Also present were Uma Thurman, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Martin Scorcese, Richard E. Grant and other Americans. This perhaps explains the concern expressed by Mirren on Radio 4 that Britain had not protected its film industry as well as France.
One viewer was understanding about Gravity: “Household (Hollywood) names have to be nominated or the Americans wouldn’t turn up? It was filmed in Britain. It was edited in Britain. Its visual effects were designed in Britain. Its producer is British. Its director has lived in Britain for over 10 years. Much of its crew are British. It’s as much a British film as it is any other country’s.”
But his seemed a minority opinion.
Numerous industry professionals disagreed with Bafta’s decision to classify Gravity as a “British film”, thereby perhaps ensuring it picked up as many prizes as possible.
Screen International chief reporter Andreas Wiseman protested: “A film needs 16 points in the BFI’s (British Film Institute’s) ‘cultural test’ to qualify as British. Does Gravity pass? Not by my maths.”
Journalist Guy Lodge of Variety and The Observer said: “I hear the reasons for Gravity qualifying as a British film. I understand them. But still... no.”
Film critic Scott Weinberg observed: “Gravity is a British film? OK. In order to qualify for a Bafta, a film must be partially shot in Great Britain, or have a British producer or open in British theatres. I think it’s kinda weak, to be honest. Great Britain produces tons of good films. They should focus on those films, not Hollywood’s.”
These days movies are international collaborations but Weinberg also slammed American Hustle for being considered a British film, arguing: “American Hustle is a British film too? Oh man. These guys kill me.”
Actor Matt Stokoe also shared his thoughts on Gravity winning Best British Film: “I loved Gravity, but it’s a shame it won Best British Film. Would have been nice to see Bafta celebrate the smaller guys. I (love) an underdog.”
In her acceptance speech Mirren quoted from The Tempest: “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on...”
Today, Bafta and Hollywood, it was suggested, would make the Bard do a rewrite: “We are such stuff/ As American dreams are made on...”
In 2009, Bollywood dismissed Slumdog Millionaire as British “poverty porn” but the movie was enthusiastically embraced as Indian when it bagged no fewer than eight Oscars.