This year’s BAFTA Film Awards will be a little different than usual for a number of reasons, and so it was arguably more important than ever to find the perfect hosts. But in Edith Bowman and Dermot O’Leary, the ceremony can rely on some practiced hands to oversee the evening– and Bowman is particularly relishing the chance to celebrate the past year of film.
The broadcaster is travelling by train as she chats to RadioTimes.com the day after she was announced as a host, and though the phone signal comes and goes during our conversation, nothing can hide her excitement at landing the gig.
“It was pretty special,” she says, recalling the moment she was asked to present. “It’s quite hard to describe the emotion I felt, because it was so many emotions at once!”
Although this will be her first year presenting the main show, Bowman is no stranger to the awards. She’s hosted the red carpet pre-show alongside O’Leary on several previous occasions, and she imagines that experience will come in handy on the night – especially given the strange circumstances surrounding this year’s pandemic impacted event.
“It’s about bringing that energy and enthusiasm that we have on the red carpet into the main show,” she explains. “I think the biggest obstacle for us is that there’s not going to be an audience – a live audience, anyway.
“It’s just about kind of transferring that energy into that main show and really putting our stamp on it. This is our opportunity to show what we can do so we are not taking that lightly. We really want this to be something that people have an amazing time watching and being part of and talking about. So it’s scary, but exciting – and really nerve-wracking!”
One of the things that Bowman is particularly looking forward to is having the opportunity to shine a light on some of the films that have provided escapism and entertainment during the difficult past year. And she also hopes that people watching the ceremony will come away with a more positive view on the future of cinema, which has been the subject of more than a few doomsday predictions over the past 12 months.
“I think people think it’s all kind of doom and gloom around the film industry,” she says. “From what’s going on, what we’ve all been through in the past year. But there’s actually kind of light in that tunnel in that there’s been an amazing opportunity for smaller independent films to really have a moment.”
She picks out several of the nominated films – among them Sound of Metal, Rocks, St. Maud, and Calm with Horses – as films that have particularly benefited from the lack of focus on bigger tentpole releases this year, and also hopes some of the other films will still get their chance on the big screen when cinemas can finally reopen their doors in just over a month’s time, giving them a “posthumous chance”, as she puts it.
Bowman’s fascination with film started when she was just a young child. She was brought up in a small family hotel in Fife, and her Dad used to run a weekly Saturday Film Club where she helped out with memberships and was introduced to films like The Goonies, Bugsy Malone and Raiders of the Lost Ark. This interest continued into her university days, when she took a Film Studies module, and she’s not looked back since. Now, she’s one of the most prominent film broadcasters in the country, hosting Q&A’s with some of the biggest names in the industry, regularly standing in for Simon Mayo on BBC 5 Live’s flagship film show, and serving as the main presenter on BBC Four’s Life Cinematic.
The film project that is closest to her heart, however, is Soundtracking, her weekly film music podcast which will turn five years old this August. Bowman describes the podcast – which is very much a DIY project – as her “pride and joy” and concedes that she never imagined it would take off to the degree it has.
“Since we launched, we’ve put out an episode every week bar two weeks,” she says. “I never imagined that we would be able to sustain that, but I’m so proud of it. It’s just me and my friend Ben that make it: I book all the guests, I do all the interviews and record them, give Ben the audio and then he does his Jedi tricks and makes it sound amazing. And then we rely on word of mouth, we rely on people enjoying what they hear, and we’ve been really so thrilled by the response.”
It’s not difficult to see why Bowman is so proud of the podcast – a look at past guests, some of whom have made multiple appearances, is like a cinephile’s dream, with major directors including Quentin Tarantino, Steve McQueen and Sofia Copolla all featuring. Bowman was especially excited to record an episode with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross just before Christmas – with the pair talking about their acclaimed scores for everything from Pixar’s Soul to David Fincher’s The Social Network – while she also picks out an episode with Martin Scorsese’s long time editor Thelma Schoonmaker as a particular highlight. There are some big names, however, that have so far remained elusive.
“I email John Williams’ team, at least like once a fortnight,” she says. “I’ve moved it back from once a week to once a fortnight – prior to COVID, I did threaten to just get on a plane to kind of stalk him outside his house!
“And then I saw this brilliant footage of this kid and his family playing, they had a music stand and they were stood outside John Williams house playing Star Wars – and he came out! And I’m like, that’s all I need to do!”
While Soundtracking is likely to continue for some time, there are more question marks over another of Bowman’s projects, Life Cinematic, especially following the news that BBC Four would be significantly cutting back on original programming. The series – which has so far aired five episodes – operates rather like a film version of Desert Island Discs, with an array of prominent directors choosing their favourite movie scenes, and Bowman has thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“I love doing those shows,” she says. “I mean, I was on board with the idea stage, so I was involved in coming up with the idea and similarly with Soundtracking I feel like it’s a really good format that could kind of run and run.
“Because it doesn’t just have to be directors that we could focus on, I think there’s a wonderful rabbit hole of people that we could pull out to talk to. I mean when we were trying to come up with lists for those last two episodes, oh my God, the list was quite extensive. But I have no idea if it’s getting picked up for another series or not. Fingers crossed that it would, but we’ll have to wait and see.” (When we spoke to Bowman, the BBC Four news hadn’t yet broken).
Bowman’s approach to the programme is representative of her approach to covering film in general – she does plenty of prior research, of course, but she always puts an emphasis on listening and learning during the shows themselves as well.
“I think that that for me is one of the biggest things that I have learned throughout my career,” she says. “It’s about listening, it’s about not turning up to something thinking you know everything, it’s about turning up having your toolkit with you but also having the opportunity to learn and walk away having learned something new.”
And something else that epitomises Bowman’s approach is that she’s always determined to cover film as a fan, rather than a critic. “It’s always been about authenticity and truth,” she explains. “And I’ve always really wanted to feel like I’ve come at all the things I do as a fan. I’m not a critic, I’m not there to tell people what they should think about something – I just want to kind of enthuse about stuff to let people make their own mind up about it. And that’s kind of how I’ve always tried to approach the stuff that I’ve done. And it stood me in good stead.”
Clearly, that method has worked, and Bowman is taking a similarly non-critical stance to the BAFTAs – choosing to remain impartial when asked which films she’d like to see pick up some awards. But she is keen to highlight how great a year it’s been for British films in particular.
“The one thing that I will say is that over the past year, I’ve needed so much from the films that I’ve watched,” she says. “In terms of escapism, great performances, emotion. And I think that there’s so much diversity on offer this year that I think the storytelling is just at its best. And I think, particularly for British film and British filmmakers, it’s a thoroughly exciting time.
“I think that it’s great having BAFTA committing to the awards and committing to all this hard work that everybody’s done both in terms of making the films but also getting them out there, keeping the cogs of the industry turning. And I think for me to celebrate all that, and having the opportunity to host it, is a proper dream come true.”