Vue is Kicking up an a-ROMA

Two weeks after Romas success at the BAFTAs, winning four huge categories including Best Film, one of the giants of cinema in Europe – Vue International – has spoken out against the Academys decision to accept the film for consideration.

Tim Richards, the chief executive of Vue, in an open letter to BAFTA, has expressed his concerns” over the decision to count Roma eligible for the awards. The reason taking precedence with the tacticsof the distribution rights owner Netflix, who released the film on their TV streaming service whilst having a very small Theatrical cinema release, which Richards believes did not qualify them for entry into the BAFTAs.

Richards begins:We (Vue International) believe that BAFTA has not lived up to its usual high standards this year in choosing to endorse and promote a made for TVfilm that audiences were unable to see on a big screen.Going on to cite BAFTAs own selection criteria thatthe 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.

Roma was technically shown on big screens for a public paying UK audience, but beyond the known 13 Curzon cinemas, it is unclear of how far reaching this release was. Richards estimates that Roma was available to less than 1% of the UK marketand sees this as a token effort…solely because it (Netflix) wanted an award. He then cites a further rule from BAFTAs eligibility criteria 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 meaningfuland asks How could BAFTA let this happen? He goes on to say that: Netflix is well known for its tactics and secrecy, and its release strategy for Roma in the UK was no exception… 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.

In the letter he is soon to remove criticism for the film and film-maker saying This is personally difficult because Alfonso Cuarón is an incredible filmmaker for whom I have a huge amount of respect.Despite his praise of Cuarón, Richards is clearly incensed about the way the film has been handled by its distributor and confused why these actions were not called out by the awards body. This prompts him to close the letter with the weighted statement:

I regret that in future we (Vue International) will not be able to support the BAFTA awards as we usually do unless the Academy board reconsiders its eligibility criteria.

And finished by saying that BAFTA, the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and major film festivals should continue to differentiate between a made for TVmovie and a first run feature film with a full theatrical release, as they have for the last 100 years.

A spokesperson from BAFTA released a statement in reaction to the letter saying that The Film Committee is satisfied that every film in contention for this years Film Awards met the criteria for entry, which includes a meaningful UK theatrical release. In a possible acknowledgement and response to the provocation given by Tim Richards, they went on to state that We review our criteria annually in close consultation with the industry to ensure that our eligibility criteria remain fit for purpose.

Netflix has already come up against opposition to their films being included in other major film festivals around Europe, and their tactics seem to be rubbing industry veterans up the wrong way. Are these moves by Netflix their way of antagonising the upheaval in the film industry, that sees a fight between the cinema-experience’ and staying curled up on the sofa? Or are they naively playing with fire and are soon to be singed into playing nice?

Whilst it probably wont affect Romas upcoming chances at the Oscars, where it is nominated for ten categories including Best Picture, there are people in the industry that would agree with Richards’ point of view, himself quoting Steven Spielberg who said: Once you commit to a television format, youre a TV movie. You certainly, if its a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar.

©  |  Cheltenham International Film Festival  |  2023