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BAFTAs, Cesars question Oscar omissions

Marty Schroeder | Friday, March 2, 2007

The Oscars are over and the red carpet has been rolled up. The stars have gone home to polish the statuettes they’ve won, or possibly to drown their sorrows.

To many people, Oscar night is the only night that matters when it comes to awards for film. Sure, TNT may show the Screen Actors Guild (or SAG) awards – actors voting for actors – and it’s a quaint practice, but it doesn’t offer the grandeur or the splendor of Oscar night and thus doesn’t really matter.

What about the Golden Globes, for that matter? Many have heard of them, but who votes on them? And what makes them different than the Oscars? Do they even matter?

Hollywood may only have one night with Oscar, but it sure gets around when it comes to awards shows – and this isn’t even getting into the European (and other North American) film festivals that rarely influence what goes on in Hollywood.

There are awards determined by academies, such as the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which organizes the Golden Globes, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), and the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema of France.

These groups include film professionals and journalists who vote on the various awards. The granddaddy of them all is arguably the Oscars, the ceremony organized by AMPAS. However, other awards tend to get overlooked in the face of such stiff competition for attention.

This year’s British Academy Film Awards, presented by BAFTA, looked similar to the Oscars in terms of nominees. However, the winners were somewhat different. While “The Departed” – an American film not only in financing but also in theme – won the Oscar for Best Picture, “The Queen” found such success at the BAFTAs.

It doesn’t take a Panavision camera technician to figure out that British audiences, and more importantly, British film professionals, will like “The Queen” more. Perhaps “like” is the wrong word here – what I mean to say is that a film like “The Departed” strikes a chord with American audiences, with its tale of immigrant communities and gangsters, two icons of American cultural lore.

Granted, the British have their share of gangster pictures, but a film about the current monarch at one of the lowest points of her career is something that Americans just don’t quite understand.

My point, then, is that without the BAFTA Awards, “The Queen” may have gone down as that movie where Helen Mirren did a fine job portraying some monarch across the ocean. However, it got the recognition it deserved.

Did I think it was the best picture of the year? No – but then again, I’m not British either.

The national academy mentioned above is the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema – the French equivalent to the AMPAS. The César Awards occur every year and award the best of not only French cinema, but that of the EU as well. The Best Picture winner this year was the film “Lady Chatterley,” directed by Pascale Ferran and based on a D.H. Lawrence novel. I doubt that many people have heard of this film in the U.S., but it is garnering recognition of the national cinema academy in a country that takes its films more seriously than maybe any other.

What makes this festival so important is its insistence on the recognition of up-and-coming filmmakers. Director Géla Babluani, who visited Notre Dame last weekend with his debut film “13 Tzameti,” was nominated for the Best First Work César, and his brother, the lead actor, was nominated for the Most Promising Actor César. This film may not have even gotten recognition from the U.S. were it not for this award ceremony. Babluani is now remaking the film in the States, and it is slated for a 2008 release.

What is most interesting about the César Awards for Americans is the placement of American films into the foreign film award category. American cinema is so used to dominating the world film industry that placement in a foreign film category seems alien.

However, the French do seem to love American movies, as an American film has taken this award for the last six years – the most recent being this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” which beat the Mexican film “Babel,” the Spanish “Volver,” the British “The Queen,” and, due to its late release in Europe, “Brokeback Mountain.” I think American and French audiences might get along better if they simply sat down and watched some movies together.

All in all, while a broader audience might watch the Oscars, the other national academies and film festivals still take pride in the films that they both award and represent.

It may be quite some time before a film in a non-English language will be awarded the Best Picture Oscar, and, in a way, this is fair – the Oscars represent an American Academy. However, if the AMPAS holds itself up as the gold standard in film awards, it should recognize that perhaps the best film if the year may not be in English.

The largest film festival in Africa just opened Sunday in the capitol of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. Called the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, this festival promises to bring many African films to the fore – but only in Africa. The winners in this festival may find some recognition in the Francophone world, as many of the films are in French; however, they garner little support even in the American art-house circuits.

Notably, last year’s Foreign Language Oscar winner was from South Africa – it’s about time that America and Europe took their stranglehold off of cinema.

Until audiences and critics alike can sit down, watch movies together and realize that cinema has a power to communicate unlike any other artistic medium, the awards ceremonies will mean little more than industry self-congratulation.

The ceremonies have their place, but more international recognition would be a welcome change in the Oscars race.

Contact Marty Schroeder at mschroe1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.