‘Gravity’: What makes the BAFTA winner a British film?

"Gravity" producers Alfonso Cuarón and David Heyman at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards.
(Joel Ryan / Invision / AP)

How could a movie with a Mexican director, two American stars and the backing of a major U.S. studio be named outstanding British film at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards?

That’s the question on many awards observers’ minds after Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi thriller “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and released by Warner Bros., reaped six BAFTA trophies on Sunday, among them one reserved for demonstrations of “outstanding and original British filmmaking which shows exceptional creativity and innovation.”

BAFTA stipulates that to be eligible for outstanding British film “a film must have significant British creative involvement and be certified as British under one of the BFI/DCMS’s three definitions.” To receive certification, a film must either pass a “cultural test” or be an official U.K. co-production.

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Eligibility requirements are less stringent for other BAFTA categories, such as best director, which Cuarón won, and best film, which went to “12 Years a Slave.” They merely require films to be released theatrically in the U.K. within BAFTA’s awards year.

“Gravity” passed the cultural test for best British film, as it does indeed have British bona fides. The film was produced by Briton David Heyman (of the “Harry Potter” films) and shot at Pinewood Studios outside London and Shepperton Studios in Surrey. The shoot employed a local crew, and visual effects were handled by the U.K. outfit Framestore. Composer Steven Price is British as well.

Perhaps less persuasively, Cuarón resides in London and can therefore be considered a British director. Backstage at the ceremony, Cuarón addressed questions about the film’s Britishness.

“I don’t need to set the record straight,” Cuarón told reporters. “There’s a series of rules that make a film eligible for BAFTAs as a best British film or not. And ‘Gravity’ definitely has all the requirements, except a couple of Mexicans that came here — legally, I have to say … . And a couple of American stars. The rest is a film that was completely shot in this country, developed in this country.”

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