Bang the gong for Scottish Baftas

Blackbird is just the kind of obscure gem that could benefit from a nomination. Picture: Contributed
Blackbird is just the kind of obscure gem that could benefit from a nomination. Picture: Contributed
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The Scots awards won’t even make it to TV, but they’re a vital bellwether of our film industry

IT’S fashionable to decry awards ceremonies, so let me join in. Earlier this month a Scottish fashion awards event gave a prize to Noel Gallagher’s wife for being Most Stylish Female. I don’t think it’s wide of the mark to suspect that the award was really Most Likely To Turn Up And Bring Noel. Events like this depress me, because they are such exercises in desperation. Show me someone who gives a fig about Sara McDonald’s dress sense, and I’ll ask you why I’m having to talk to your numpty of a friend.

On the other hand, the Scottish Baftas really do matter – and perhaps even more than their UK big brother. I know, I know: compared with the British Baftas, tonight’s bash will not be an enormously glitzy affair. Instead of Clooneys, Bullocks and Denchs, the talent walking up the red carpet tonight in Glasgow could just as easily be retrieved from clubbable watering holes around Edinburgh or Glasgow. Yet while Scottish Baftas may not have pomp, they do have a point, offering a reasonably balanced snapshot of the state of Scottish film.

When the 2013 nominations were first announced, some critics asked why such a large proportion of the nominees in categories such as best film were documentaries. Some commentators read it as a sign that Scotland was having a golden age of non-fiction filmmaking, or that perhaps recession audiences were not in the mood for dramatic fluff.

Both of these are good points, but they misread a bigger issue epitomised by the Scottish Baftas: which is that it is currently very difficult to get the money and talent in the same room at the same time for drama. A useful reminder, especially since around the same time Filth, Sunshine On Leith, Not Another Happy Ending and For Those In Peril all opened in one month, leading to speculation that Scottish movie-making was on the increase, and that previous talk of stunted growth was merely dour wet-blanketism. In close-up, the Scottish Bafta list tells a different story: the odds of getting a drama funded and filmed in Scotland remains only slightly less stacked against you than winning the lottery. Documentaries are on the rise because documentaries are cheaper.

Even Bafta Scotland has felt the need to make economies – there are no awards for short film makers, no category for best supporting actor – but the body does take its judgment seriously. The long list of potential nominees is voted on by the entire Scottish membership, while the shortlist is debated over several hours by a jury drawn from the relevant field. At heart, Bafta Scotland is idealistic, with an abiding belief in a fragile but fearless home-grown film and TV community, so there was much soul-searching before the goalposts were widened this year to include work which showcases Scottish practitioners, rather than productions made in Scotland.

The rigor applied to organising these awards means that winning a Scottish Bafta has some value within the industry – maybe there will be a little pocket of finance made available to you next time round, or a cinema prepared to give you an extra week’s run, or a repeat slot found for you on TV. That’s why the Cineworld Audience Award, although not strictly a Bafta award, has become such a big deal that it now requires a rethink. As Scotland on Sunday reported last week, the online people’s vote risks being hijacked into a vote for the most effective social media campaign, rather than a favourite Scottish film, because logging on to a website and clicking one choice from six films is vulnerable to abuse. And unlike the Edinburgh International Film Festival audience award, this category doesn’t even compel you to have seen any of the films listed.

That seems to me to be the real weakness of the current Audience Award setup, because one of the positives of the category is that Cineworld rescreened the nominated films on the shortlist – films that otherwise might have disappeared after a few turns at a film festival. I’m thinking particularly of Blackbird, The Happy Lands and May Miles Thomas’ marvellously warm and inventive movie The Devil’s Plantation.

The last was made with £750 and resourceful ingenuity. Weeks after seeing it at a sold-out Glasgow Film Festival screening, I found myself thinking about it. Yet it isn’t eligible for consideration by UK Bafta, because two sold-out screenings at a Scottish film festival and a handful of screenings at Cineworld cannot be counted as a theatrical release under their rules.

A pity, since everyone I have taken to see this film has fallen in love with it. But at least being nominated for the audience award brought the film a bigger slice of attention. It might even help Miles Thomas get some help with her next project.

Some people rail against film awards, but particularly in a tough economic climate, it seems hard to begrudge a filmmaker a pat on the back for managing to make a decent movie in hard-scrabble circumstances. Incidentally, I can’t help but notice that while both STV and the BBC are happy to go along tonight and scoop up awards in the television categories, the ceremony itself, having bounced between the two broadcasters in the 1980s and 90s, has now been dropped altogether.

Admittedly the event has had its lowpoints – I recall a comedy category one year where all the nominees had performed one role or another in Rab C Nesbitt – but now the awards have been rendered invisible to most viewers, unless you seek it out online. That seems a pity because Scottish Baftas celebrate something that Scots always root for - accomplishment against the odds.

Twitter: @siobhansynnot

• For more information on the Scottish Baftas, visit