Road movie ‘Nomadland’ sweeps Baftas as women filmmakers triumph
Leveling the playing field
Published: Apr 12, 2021 06:38 PM
From left: Chloe Zhao, Frances McDormand, and Fox Searchlight Co-Chairman Stephen Gilula Photo: VCG

From left: Chloe Zhao, Frances McDormand, and Fox Searchlight Co-Chairman Stephen Gilula Photo: VCG

US road movie Nomadland triumphed at the Bafta film awards on Sunday, with Chinese director Chloe Zhao's intimate portrayal of marginalized Americans winning in four categories including best film, best actress and best director.

The socially distanced and largely remote awards ceremony in London saw a strong showing by women directors in the run-up to the Oscars.

The British academy has sought to improve diversity and Zhao was one of four women nominated for "best director."

"We brought in changes to the awards to level the playing field," said Krishnendu Majumdar, chair of the academy, following criticism over 2020's awards ceremony which had no women directors and an all-white shortlist.

Zhao welcomed stronger representation for women filmmakers in comments to journalists afterwards, saying: "It's about time, it's great."

"I love doing what I do and if this means more people like me get to live their dreams, I'm very grateful."

British director Emerald Fennell also carried off two awards for her debut feature, Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan.

The Oscar-tipped thriller is about a woman who avenges a friend's rape by pretending to be drunk in bars and then turning the tables on men who prey on her.

The film, which has elements of comedy and horror, won for outstanding British film and original screenplay.

Sitting in front of a grand piano in a gauzy white dress, Fennell described the film as a "labor of love."

"It was the greatest thing in my life making this film," she said.

The film is nominated for Oscars for best director and best original screenplay, while Mulligan is nominated for best actress.

Zhao accepted Nomadland's awards dressed  in a plaid shirt from Los Angeles, saying that she planned to start the day with celebrations. "Tomorrow morning, I will be very hung over," she said.

The film's star Frances McDormand won for best leading actress and sent a written message saying: "Thank you, dear British people."

Nomadland is one of the frontrunners for the Oscar awards, with six nominations including for best picture, best director and best actress.

In March it won the coveted Golden Globe awards for best drama film and best director. 

Welsh actor Sir Anthony Hopkins won the best actor Bafta for The Father, a film about a man suffering from dementia directed by France's Florian Zeller.

The 83-year-old didn't appear during the ceremony but spoke to journalists afterwards, explaining that he had not expected to win and had been holidaying in Wales and painting in his hotel room.

"This is wonderful, I mean, this is the first time in my life when I never expected to get this," he said, calling his fourth Bafta a "fun bonus."

An emerging star, 19-year-old Bukky Bakray, won the EE Rising Star award, chosen by public vote, for Rocks, a coming-of-age drama set in London.

She made her debut after being discovered through open auditions.

Dressed in a pink satin gown, she made her acceptance speech to screams of joy from her family and a hug from her mother.

'Diet Bafta'

The socially distanced ceremony was held at London's Royal Albert Hall with awards presented on stage to an empty auditorium.

The winning actors and film-makers mostly decked out in dinner jackets and evening dresses accepted awards on video calls from their living rooms and hotels, some with family members reacting emotionally in the background.

One of the award presenters, comedian Youssef Kerkour described the stripped-back ceremony as "diet Bafta."

Prince William had been due to participate in the ceremony, but he pulled out following the death of his grandfather Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.

The star power came from the actors who presented awards on stage including Hugh Grant, Richard E. Grant, Tom Hiddleston and Bridgerton star Phoebe Dynevor. Hollywood star Renee Zellweger made a virtual appearance from Los Angeles in a dramatic silver gown to present the leading actor award.

Grant awarded the prestigious Bafta Academy Fellowship to double Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, perhaps best known for Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, describing his film career as "almost preposterously successful."

"I'm humbled to be counted among such brilliant filmmakers," said the film director.

The ceremony was held over two days for the first time, with technical awards on Saturday.

On Saturday, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film about a blues musician in 1920s Chicago, took home two technical Baftas for costume design and make-up and hair.Rocks and Mank, a depiction of a debauched screenwriter during Hollywood's golden age, also bagged a prize each for casting and production design respectively.

Other winners in the technical awards included Christopher Nolan's Tenet for special visual effects and Sound of Metal, starring Riz Ahmed, for sound. 

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