Cineworld has officially withdrawn its support of BAFTA, following the success of Roma at the British Academy’s awards last month.
BAFTA drew criticism from the multiplex chain Vue last week over the Academy’s decision to allow the Netflix film to compete in the awards. The movie, which was released in Curzon cinemas and other independent venues in Scotland and Ireland, was not carried by any of the major cinema chains, because of Netflix’s release of films online either day-and-date or within the traditional 16-week window reserved for cinemas. Nonetheless, Roma went on to win Best Picture and several other awards, prompting ire from bigger cinema companies.
Vue CEO Tim Richards called Roma a “made for TV” film that audiences were unable to see on the big screen, because the Curzon release was a “token effort” to qualify for awards contention. Richards threatened to withdraw Vue’s support of BAFTA unless the organisation changed its eligibility criteria for awards. Now, Cineworld has gone one step further, with BAFTA film committee chairman Marc Samuelson revealing that the company has withdrawn its support over “concerns regarding the eligibility requirements of the Film Awards”. The letter to members, which is quoted by Variety, described it as an “unilateral decision”.
Curzon’s CEO, Philip Knatchbull, has previously responded to the debate, calling for consumer choice to be prioritised and emphasising the success it has found in releasing its films both in cinemas and on its own VOD platform.
“At Curzon, we have have been releasing our own films simultaneously in cinemas and on our own streaming service Curzon Home Cinema for almost a decade (a period which has seen us release 11 BAFTA winners),” said Knatchbull. “It was a strategy born partly from the unreliable and fragmentary support we were receiving from some of the larger cinema operators. By releasing simultaneously on Curzon Home Cinema we can ensure that everyone in the country has access to our films whatever the commercial imperatives of multiplex bookers.”
“In 2018 we saw a growing number of customers engaging with Curzon Home Cinema and attending our cinemas, so it is not evident that streaming has to be in conflict with cinema-going,” added Knatchbull. “We have actively encouraged all rights holders, including Netflix, to see the value of the theatrical experience but likewise call on the entire exhibition sector to put customer choice to the forefront.”
As a result of Cineworld’s decision, members of BAFTA will no longer be able to sue their BAFTA card to obtain free screenings at the company’s cinemas. Cineworld has not officially commented on the reports, but Samuelson reportedly said that Vue has now agreed to engage in discussions about BAFTA’s eligibility criteria in the coming months. BAFTA has already defended its decision to let Roma compete, describing Roma as having a “meaningful UK theatrical release”.
“I encourage all areas of the industry to be heard as part of this review,” said Samuelson.
Curzon responds to BAFTA and Roma backlash
24th February 2019
Curzon Cinemas has joined the debate surrounding cinemas and streaming, calling for an end to the theatrical window in film distribution.
This week saw Tim Richards, CEO of the Vue cinema chain, pen an open letter of BAFTA threatening to end its support of BAFTA, if it does not tighten its eligibility requirements for feature film nominees. The cause of the letter was Netflix’s Roma winning Best Picture, a feat that it is likely to pull off again at the Oscars this weekend.
After being shown at the BFI London Film Festival, the film only screened in the UK in Curzon Cinemas and a number of other independent venues, including BFI’s NFT1; multiplexes refuse to screen Netflix titles due to the streaming giant’s business model, which releases films online worldwide either on the same day as their theatrical release or within a couple of weeks of their big screen debut.
Richards said the organisation should distinguish “between a ‘made for TV’ movie and a first run feature film with a full theatrical release”.
BAFTA responded by saying it was “satisfied that every film in contention for this year’s Film Awards met the criteria for entry, which includes a meaningful UK theatrical release”.
Now, Philip Knatchbull, Curzon CEO, has clarified the cinema chain’s own position, emphasising the success it has found in both its own VOD platform, Curzon Home Cinema, and its theatrical distribution, and that customer choice should be at the forefront of the industry in the future.
“At Curzon, we have have been releasing our own films simultaneously in cinemas and on our own streaming service Curzon Home Cinema for almost a decade (a period which has seen us release 11 BAFTA winners),” says Knatchbull. “It was a strategy born partly from the unreliable and fragmentary support we were receiving from some of the larger cinema operators. By releasing simultaneously on Curzon Home Cinema we can ensure that everyone in the country has access to our films whatever the commercial imperatives of multiplex bookers.
“We are confident in the value of the theatrical experience, which is why we are not afraid to offer our customers the choice of when, where and how to watch our films. Some customers without access to a cinema, or for a multitude of personal reasons, choose to watch at home. Plenty still love watching films on the big screen. Most, of course, do both but it is our contention that everyone prefers to watch films when they are part of the national conversation, not months later. In 2018 we saw a growing number of customers engaging with Curzon Home Cinema and attending our cinemas, so it is not evident that streaming has to be in conflict with cinema-going. We have been opening new cinemas at a rate of two per year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We believe in cinema.
“The theatrical window may well serve ‘tentpole’ studio films but many smaller independent and foreign language films need a bespoke approach. Roma and Cold War have played successfully at Curzon and a number of other independent venues whilst also being available on Netflix and Curzon Home Cinema respectively. There is room for more flexibility.
“We have actively encouraged all rights holders, including Netflix, to see the value of the theatrical experience but likewise call on the entire exhibition sector to put customer choice to the forefront, and end the strict limitations of the current 16-week theatrical window.”
“As always all Curzon films remain available to be booked by Vue or any other cinema operator,” he added. “Our forthcoming tiles; Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria Bell, Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro and Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, were all made to be seen in a cinema. We invite all the large cinema chains to open a dialogue with us to resolve the current impasse so they too can choose to show these films in their cinemas and provide their customers with the choice they are looking for.”
Roma continues to screen in Curzon’s Bloomsbury, Soho, Aldgate and Oxford cinemas. You can see showtimes here. It also available on Netflix. You can read our five-star review here.
Vue criticises BAFTA for Roma’s award wins
20th February 2019
UK cinema chain Vue has criticised BAFTA for awarding Netflix’s Roma the Best Picture prize earlier this month.
Alfonso Cuaron’s movie took home four golden masks at the awards ceremony, including Best Film Not in the English Language, Best Director and Best Cinematography. The film was acquired by Netflix, which distributed it worldwide online last December, after screening it at multiple film festivals and giving it a short run in cinemas. In the UK, that run was limited to 13 Curzon cinemas, BFI Southbank, Edinburgh Filmhouse, Glasgow Film Theatre, Galway Palas, and the Dublin Lighthouse, with larger cinema chains refusing to show Netflix movies because of the shortened theatrical window.
Now, one of the UK’s biggest operators has sent an open letter to BAFTA criticising it for recognising a “made for TV” movie. Vue founder Tim Richards threatened to pull the chain’s future support for the awards, unless BAFTA changes its eligibility criteria, saying that the organisation should distinguish “between a ‘made for TV’ movie and a first run feature film with a full theatrical release”. He also criticised that Netflix does not make its box office figures public, as other distributors do.
BAFTA has since responded with its own statement: “The Film Committee is satisfied that every film in contention for this year’s Film Awards met the criteria for entry, which includes a meaningful UK theatrical release … We review our criteria annually in close consultation with the industry to ensure that our eligibility criteria remain fit for purpose.”
Here’s the letter:
As a long term member and former Council Member of BAFTA, I am writing to express my concern at the decision-making behind this year’s EE British Academy Film Awards.
As one of the largest cinema operators in Europe, Vue is a passionate believer in the role of cinema in the industry, its unique abilities to bring communities together in a shared entertainment experience and the role it plays for audiences and filmmakers in providing the best theatrical experience possible. We believe that BAFTA has not lived up to its usual high standards this year in choosing to endorse and promote a “made for TV” film that audiences were unable to see on a big screen.
This is personally difficult because Alfonso Cuarón is an incredible filmmaker for whom I have a huge amount of respect. However, the four awards given to Roma – Best Film, Director, Cinematography and Film Not in the English Language do not adhere to BAFTA’s rules requiring “that the British public should have had an opportunity to see entered films and films should therefore have been screened and marketed to a public paying UK audience”.
BAFTA’s rules also state that “Films should not be screened purely to qualify them for these awards, and the film committee may not accept entry if they do not deem the theatrical release to be meaningful”. It is clear that Netflix made at best a token effort to screen Roma, screening it to less than 1% of the UK market solely because it wanted an award. How could BAFTA let this happen?
Netflix is well known for its tactics and secrecy and its release strategy for Roma in the UK was no exception. It is still unclear whether Roma was screened on more than the 13 Curzon Cinema screens representing less than 0.5% of the cinema market and for one week at the Filmhouse Edinburgh. Not knowing how many people have seen Roma, where it was screened or what level of box office it delivered is another example of how Netflix acts outside the industry whilst at the same time it craves its acceptance.
All major British cinema exhibitors abide by the ‘Theatrical Window’ that ensures cinema audiences can enjoy the launch and screening of first run feature films before they are released on small screen formats like streaming and subscription services on iPads and televisions. This practice has successfully served all sides of our industry for many decades and is one of the core differentiators that makes cinema unique.
Roma may very well have attracted a much larger audience, without affecting Netflix’s subscription base, if it had been released as a first run theatrical film. Unfortunately, we will never know.
Steven Spielberg even stated “Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”
Appealing to industry award panels and Film Festival organisers is an essential element of the Netflix business plan to attract talent and credibility. Imagine the message that could have been sent by BAFTA if Netflix were forced to abide by the rules underlining the principle that a film must have a full theatrical release, otherwise it’s just a ‘made-for-TV’ production.
On behalf of Vue International, it saddens me that the Academy has chosen to ignore the opportunity to defend this principle. I regret that in future we will not be able to support the BAFTA awards as we usually do unless the Academy board reconsiders its eligibility criteria. BAFTA, the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and major film festivals should continue to differentiate between a “made for TV” movie and a first run feature film with a full theatrical release, as they have for the last 100 years.
Richards’ comments arrived on the same day that voting for this year’s Oscars closed. Roma, meanwhile, continues to screen in Curzon’s Bloomsbury, Soho and Aldgate cinemas, and is available on Netflix. You can read our review here.