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The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) is making its foray into India with their Breakthrough Initiative which aims to find the country’s next global talents. The initiative has been running in the UK since 2013, China since 2019 and launched in the US this year. In the UK, the program has backed actors like Tom Holland, Letitia Wright and Florence Pugh. The India chapter will give a chance to five emerging talents across film, games, or television and support them by offering international exposure and mentorship. Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman is the BAFTA Breakthrough ambassador in India. The programme seems like a blessing in a year when the Bollywood film industry has had to fight repeated claims of being tough on talents with no connections. 

We asked Tim Hunter, Director of Learning and New Talent at BAFTA, to tell us more about the programme. 

BAFTA Breakthrough is a fantastic programme for new talents. Is this going to particularly hard in India given that our film industry is a composite of many industries? 

We made a trip to Mumbai earlier and the purpose of the trip was to understand the industry a bit better so that we could hone our attention on the areas of the industry where there is global potential and where we felt UK would benefit most from the connections with the industry in India. It was an amazing trip. We absolutely fell in love with Mumbai and what we got is how the industries are made up in India, what’s distinctive, and what’s interesting.

Each year we make changes to the programme. Each year, we open up the applications and learn from what we get. To give you an example, in the past in the UK, we wanted to increase the number of documentary filmmakers so from the next year we made a special effort to reach out to them. But what we are trying to stress on is that we aren’t competing between the areas of the industry and departments. So it’s not like a writer will be pitted against a composer. What we are assessing is your journey – where you started, where you got to, and then your potential for the future. We are looking for that potential for growth and developing a name for yourself. In India, we are looking for people who are looking to be big on a global scale. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the selection process? 

We are looking for people who are 18 or over and have had a breakthrough moment and taken a creative lead in a particular sector in the past. We are looking for performers, writers, directors, composers… They have to put themselves forward and need a recommendation from one of our industry partners. Then we choose the people who match the eligibility criteria to create a long list which will then go to the jury. We haven’t recruited the jury yet. We will do it around the sectors that are most represented in the applications. The jury will assess the creative potential of each individual. We need people who know those particular sectors really well. 

“In the UK, they say you can get a foot in the door easily if you have family in the industry. That’s definitely a perception and it has a truth behind it as well. So one of our considerations when it reaches the jury stage is who will benefit most from this opportunity”

A conversation that’s been prevalent in the film industry this year is how to make the process of new talents entering more democratic. What’s been your experience in this regard with the other chapters of BAFTA Breakthrough? 

That’s exactly what the initiative is for. The inspiration for the creation of Breakthrough is that a lot of people get attention for their first project and then it’s very difficult to parley that into a successful career. We really wanted to use our influence to amplify people and embed them in the industry so that they can achieve their potential. That’s why it’s important to have people in the jury who know the industry well, because these challenges are different depending on the geography and each sector as well. 

In the UK, they say you can get a foot in the door easily if you have family in the industry. That’s definitely a perception and it has a truth behind it as well. So one of our considerations when it reaches the jury stage is who will benefit most from this opportunity. That’s when we see if this person is already connected to the industry, so maybe this is not for them. It’s not a hard and fast rule but it will be a consideration when you’re weighing a person against the other.

“So much gaming work is outsourced to India. What I would really like at some point is to promote the creative talent within gaming”

You have partnered with Netflix for the programme in US. Is that happening in India too?

Netflix is supporting the programme in the UK, US and India. And we have a partner in China too for their programme. Netflix wants to support new talent in India in the same way we do and we will be going beyond the Netflix family. 

Tell us something about including gaming too with film and television…

Gaming has been a part of BAFTA’s programme since 2000 or 2001. As gaming evolved and became a part of people’s daily lives, it got incorporated into BAFTA. So anywhere we go we will always be looking at film, TV and games. It’s particularly interesting in this case because so much gaming work is outsourced to India. What I would really like at some point is to promote the creative talent within gaming and to communicate it’s not just about outsourcing, there are really great ideas and creative talent within the gaming industry in India.

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