The 2022 BAFTA awards were given out last night, so this seems like an opportune time to take the pulse of the cinematic world. The underlying story this year is how few of the nominated films saw the inside of a cinema in any meaningful way; The Power of the Dog, Coda, The Harder They Fall and more found their audiences via streaming, not cinema, and that should be an important distinction…
There’s an on-going argument about what constitutes a film or not, but like most institutions, BAFTA have been slow to recognise how the existence of streaming erodes our sense of cinema. Companies like Netflix and Apple have been quick to recognise that awards season offers potential for a halo effect, what used to be a bump in cinema attendance or DVD sales. That bump is now largely focused on streaming instead; The Power of the Dog or Coda can’t be purchased, and are visible only to subscribers.
Streaming is a relatively new tier that sits alongside cinema and television production and distribution; it would seem logical that it should have its own awards system. How hard would it be to protect the film experience and update the rules so that a movie needs to screen exclusively in cinemas for 45 days to qualify for cinema awards?
Right now in cinemas, attendance is way down; sure, audiences flock to Batman, Spiderman and Bond, but almost all other films have been lucky to generate half the box-office they would in pre-pandemic times. Cinema is on life-support, and badly needs the oxygen of publicity to get bums back onto seats and engage our interest, but awards shows are clogged with streaming service output.
Yes, there’s a counter-argument that by paying top dollar for cancelled cinema releases (Deep Water, The Ice Road, Coming 2 America), streaming has thrown cinema a life-jacket in these difficult times. And streaming services do pay some cinemas directly to screen their product, so a 4-wall fee enables cinemas to break even despite their halls being regularly empty; yet why would audiences pay to see a film at the cinema when they can watch it for free at home?
Published statistics show they don’t; such arrangements are empty calories, a quick fix that diminishes the brand of cinema itself. Awards bodies are also loathe to reset the rules that bring them a healthy financial bounty, and yet separate streaming awards could create a third and potentially lucrative tier rather than the hopelessly slanted, anti-cinema playing field of the last few years.
Last night’s BAFTA awards saw the personable comic Rebel Wilson cornered by the lack of recognition of the nominated films; even a room full of writers would struggle to come up with gags about films that an audience simply don’t recognise. So instead, she insults lazy targets JK Rowling and Leonardo di Caprio, exactly the kind of recognisable talent that BAFTA should be cultivating rather than denigrating. Streaming has been encroaching on and eroding cinema for a while now; it’s time someone addressed the equivalent of climate change before cinema becomes an endangered species.
Putting last night aside, I’m looking forward to tonight’s first public cinema screening of our feature documentary It’s Not All Rock & Roll; we’ve been at European and British festivals, cast and crew sneaks in cafes, digital screenings and more, but this is the first time that the public can see it on the biggest of screens. It’s a cool doc by Jim Burns about US singer songwriter Dave Doughman and his band Swearing at Motorists, and I’m still keen to share it with as many people as possible. We’ll be at the Empire Clydebank tonight at 8pm; you’re not really a film unless you’ve had a meaningful release at the cinema, and that’s why the big screen is still be a big deal.