SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY: Producer quits over Gaelic film snub

30th September 2007

A LEADING figure in the Scottish movie industry has resigned from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in protest at their refusal to nominate a highly rated Gaelic movie for Oscar glory.

Producer Chris Young's shock announcement came just hours after the American Academy criticised Bafta for failing to submit his film Seachd - The Inaccessible Pinnacle in the Best Foreign Language category.

"Bafta is there to support British film. Not only are they not supporting a British film and a British film producer, but they are actively putting obstacles in our path," said Young, whose previous films include Venus Peter, Gregory's Two Girls and the award-winning comedy-drama Festival.

"What actually is the benefit of being a member of Bafta? I have decided to quit."

Meanwhile, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the American organisation that administers the Oscars, has contacted its British counterpart demanding an explanation.

"I do not understand why they would refuse to submit the film," said Sandy Lieberson, chair of the US Academy's London committee and himself a member of Bafta and a vastly experienced producer. "I have never known a country refuse to submit a film.

"The merit of a film's worthiness is totally subjective and the experts are continually making grave errors of judgment about movies. Therefore it would seem only logical for Bafta to have chosen one of the films to represent the fact that Britain is a multi-language country." Bafta also had a Welsh film up for consideration.

Lieberson, whose films include Performance and Jabberwocky and who was president of production at 20th Century Fox, was also critical of Bafta's Scottish branch and of the Scottish Government for not intervening.

"What I don't understand is why Bafta Scotland did not take a more proactive position on this. This is an issue not just for the producer, but for Scotland. In the future perhaps the choice should be left to Scotland and Wales and not Bafta in London.

"I think this is an issue that should be raised with the Department of Sports and Culture and the minister for film. There is a Scottish Parliament - don't they have any interest in these issues?"

The original decision was made by a six-strong Bafta sub-committee, but it horrified some members. The full film committee of 10 top producers and others met to review the decision last week and after a lengthy debate could not reach agreement, so the original decision stands.

Each country is allowed to submit one foreign-language film to the US Academy, which whittles the submissions down to the final list of five nominations. In the UK it is up to Bafta to decide which film to submit.

Seachd - The Inaccessible Pinnacle has been promoted as Scotland's first genuine Gaelic feature film, has garnered positive early reviews, has secured a commercial release next month and was considered hot favourite to go forward as a UK Oscar submission.

The film, shot on Skye, is a fantasy movie and has been compared to the classic The Princess Bride. An old man (played by Gaelic poet Angus Peter Campbell) tells his grandchildren a series of stories involving a magic horse, a man who has lived for 1,000 years and shipwrecked sailors.

Bafta refused to give a reason for the decision not to put forward either Seachd or the Welsh film. But Douglas Rae, producer of Mrs Brown and Becoming Jane and a member of the sub-committee, said they "didn't merit being put forward".

The decision came under attack earlier this month from various organisations and individuals, including Scottish Screen, the national film agency, which contributed about £170,000 towards a budget of £700,000.

Jude MacLaverty of the Gaelic Media Festival, said it was "hugely important" for Gaelic culture. "Wales and Ireland have a huge culture where their minority language is concerned, but Scotland needs to keep pushing. It's a shame."

The news caused uproar, not just within Scotland, but among senior members of Bafta, who knew nothing about it before it was reported by Scotland on Sunday two weeks ago.

Louise Beasley, Bafta's film awards officer, said the decision was irreversible. But Finola Dwyer, who has just recently taken over as chair of the film committee, subsequently indicated that the organisation might well review the controversial decision. She said: "This is a decision that I have inherited. I've just literally stepped into the chair of film. We totally understand the concern and I'm dealing with it."

The film committee met in private last week and decided to stick with the original decision. "There was a great deal of discussion, but it was a majority decision," said Dwyer. "I am unable to add anything more because of the Bafta code of confidentiality."

Young said: "I feel I have been treated with total disrespect, as has the film. They've made my life hell for the past two weeks. I'm trying to shoot a comedy at the moment and I've spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get a decision and get an explanation for the decision."

Young feels Bafta in London has been entirely negative and has been disappointed by the lack of support from Bafta in Glasgow. "Maybe Scotland should have its own film academy," he said. "It's certainly something I would like to talk to Alex Salmond about."

Hong Kong submits a film independently of China, but Alison Forsyth, director of Bafta Scotland, said: "I've never dealt with the Oscars. I'm a branch of Bafta UK."

Bafta Scotland organised a preview of Seachd for its members earlier this month.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Scottish Screen leads on issues relating to film for the Scottish Government. We, like Scottish Screen, are, of course, extremely disappointed that the Seachd has not been forwarded for an Oscar nomination, particularly given the wide critical acclaim that the film has had at its limited showings to date, including at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

by Brian Pendreigh