Vue CEO goes to war with BAFTA over Netflix's 'made for TV' films

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Alfonso Cuaron holds aloft two of his BAFTAs for Roma (PA)

Cinema chain Vue has threatened to pull its support of the BAFTA Film Awards after Netflix’s Roma won four of the top prizes at this year’s awards show.

In a letter (via Screen) to BAFTA CEO Amanda Berry, Tim Richards – founder and CEO of European exhibitor Vue International – said that the British Academy “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.”

Roma won four BAFTAs – Best Film, Director, Cinematography, and Film Not in the English Language – on Sunday, 10 February.

Alfonso Cuaron’s black-and-white drama received a very limited theatrical release in the U.K. ahead of its global release on the streaming service on 21 November, 2018. Richards argues that releasing the film on just two screens ahead of its online release meant it should not have been eligible to compete in the annual competition.

He cites the BAFTA eligibility rule “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”.

And another that states “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”.

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 10: Founder and CEO of Vue International Tim Richards and British film star Gemma Arterton attend opening night celebrating the £6.6m relaunch of Vue’s state-of-the-art entertainment venue in the West End on July 10, 2017 in London, England (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for Vue)

The CEO of Vue, a chain which boasts “90 state of the art cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland, with 863 screens”, accuses Netflix of “tactics and secrecy” around its theatrical releases saying it “acts outside the industry whilst at the same time it craves its acceptance.”

“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?”

Vue’s support for the BAFTAs this year included “marketing and endorsement for the awards themselves, as well as buying seats at the ceremony”. The chain says it will not do this in 2020 “unless the Academy board reconsiders its eligibility criteria.”

In response to the letter BAFTA released a statement saying:

“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.

This image released by Netflix shows Yalitza Aparicio in a scene from the film “Roma,” by filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron. The film is nominated for an Oscar for best picture and best foreign film. The 91st Academy Awards will be held on Feb. 24. (Alfonso Cuarón/Netflix via AP)

“BAFTA encourages public engagement with cinema-going and aims to be inclusive and supportive of the UK filmmaking sector as a whole.

“We review our criteria annually in close consultation with the industry to ensure that our eligibility criteria remain fit for purpose.”

Read Tim Richards’ letter to BAFTA in full on Screen.

Richards comments come off the back of an impassioned plea from Steven Spielberg to preserve the magic of the cinemagoing experience.

Speaking at the Cinema Audio Society’s CAS Awards, the Ready Player One director said:

“I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience. I’m a firm believer that movie theatres need to be around forever.”

“I love television. I love the opportunity. Some of the greatest writing being done today is for television, some of the best directing for television, some of the best performances [are] on television today,” he added while accepting the Filmmaker Award on 16 February.

“The sound is better in homes more than it ever has been in history but there’s nothing like going to a big dark theatre with people you’ve never met before and having the experience wash over you. That’s something we all truly believe in.”

Expect the conversation to reach new levels should Roma bag any of the top Oscars on Sunday, as most predict it will. 

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