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How BAFTA Breakthrough Is Helping Rising Stars in the US Propel Their Careers to the Next Level



There’s one particular star whose career Brandon Perea says he’d love to emulate.

“I’m just a massive fan of her work for one, and the projects that she’s doing,” says the actor, who turned heads in Netflix’s The OAbut really captured attention earlier this year as the bleached-haired tech salesman and UFO enthusiast Angel Torres in Jordan Peele’s sci-fi horror, Nope, his first major film role. “So to be able to mirror that in the slightest sense would be incredible.”

Thankfully for the 27-year-old, he’s already about to mirror one early element of Florence Pugh’s career.

Alongside perhaps Tom Holland and Letitia Wright (all three, coincidentally, now major elements in the MCU), Pugh — prior to her dramatic ascent — was a graduate of BAFTA’s Breakthrough program, the initiative set up by the British Academy in 2013 to help support rising talent across film, television and video games.

Originally launched solely for the UK, the program — which offers its annual crop of participants a year’s worth of individually curated development, networking and mentoring opportunities, taking advantage of BAFTA’s impressive Rolodex of industry names — has since been backed by Netflix and gone global, first to China in 2019 and to India and the US in 2020.

Perea is among the 12-strong list of US Breakthroughs for 2022-23, announced earlier this month, having actually been approached by BAFTA to apply. “When the email came in to join I just remember reading it like a college acceptance letter, and being, like, ‘Oh my god,'” he recalls.

Also among the 2022 cohort from the US is producer Melissa Adeyomo, whose debut feature, Eyimofe (This Is My Desire), about two Nigerians living in Lagos who dream of emigrating to Europe, bowed in the Berlinale in 2020 before going on an impressive festival run, along the way similar to Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love and Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation. Adeyomo says she heard about the program through writer-director Ekwa Msangi, who was a Breakthrough in 2020 following her Sundance-winning title. Farewell Amor.

“And then someone forwarded a BAFTA listing and said, ‘I think you might be a good fit for this,’ and I thought, ‘This seems kind of cool,'” she notes. “As an independent filmmaker I’ve really created my own way, so the opportunity for mentorship is incredible.”

For fellow 2022 Breakthrough So Yun Um, the recommendation to apply for the initiative came just before she took the doc feature Liquor Store Dreams — her deeply personal directorial debut exploring the politics of Korean-owned liquor stores in the US (including her father’s) — on a global tour, including the Busan International Film Festival and then to the BFI London Film Festival. “I thought, Ok, I will, but it sounded like such a far-fetched thing,” she explains. “But I shoot my shot in everything I do, so I did and when I heard back it was probably the most surprisingly email I’ve received.”

Although Perea, Adeyomo and Yun Um may be practicing their crafts in different areas of filmmaking, on and off-screen, they all hope to utilize BAFTA Breakthrough for the same central goal. That is, to learn how to take advantage of this pivotal moment of their career to move to the next stage and in the manner they want to.

“I really feel like it’s easy for you to have a film that breaks through, but for there then to be this huge gap before your next one,” notes Adeyomo, who says that, as a producer, it’s her job to help get each project moving with as much ease for her directors as possible. “So it does help to be as prepared as possible, and given that the old rules really aren’t applying, at least on the film side, you do have to have as much knowledge as you can,” she says. “I think it’s both being able to propel yourself forward from this fledgling place to something more official and not just like a flash in the night, and I think [Breakthrough] should help.”

Adeyomo is currently producing the documentary Dusty & Stones, about two country singers from Swaziland who travel to Texas to compete in a battle of the bands competition. Given its subject, she thinks there’s a definite international audience for the film, and she’s still trying to pin-down its international premiere. “So being part of this BAFTA network definitely helps with that,” she says.

With Liquor Store Dreams now out in the world and showing people the sort of stories Yun Um wants to tell and what kind of filmmaker she is, she says she feels like she’s “on the cusp” and now “truly emerging” in the industry. Being on Breakthrough, she hopes she can “meet more people, become a better filmmaker and learn more techniques,” but also look to broaden her horizons and opportunities as “somebody who wants to do both documentary and narrative.”

Having had a “life changing” experience on Nope, Perea is now at a career junction where he wants to carefully plot what he does next. When the film was first released in September, he admits to thinking that he needed to get straight back to work and have another job booked by the end of the year.

“But I had to sit back and think, it’s only just come out, you have to allow time for more people to see it. Of course, if a great script and a great filmmaker comes along, then I’ll try to make it happen. But at this point, it’s like, don’t rush it,” he says, adding that he hopes to “pick the brains” of others who have been through a similar experience. “It’s a privileged position, but I want to handle it with grace and purpose.”

When Breakthroughs first join the program, they’re asked to send BAFTA a wish-list of names they’d love to speak to to help gather that vital career-propelling expertise they’re looking for. For Adeyomo, figures such as Steve McQueen and Julian Fellowes spring to mind (“Maybe I could visit the set of The Gilded Age?”), while for Yun Um, she went “really big,” and said that she’d love to shadow Chloe Zhao on set and talk to Bong Joon Ho about scriptwriting and directing actors. “Unanimously, our class also said Andrea Arnold — I feel like that’s the person I want to strive to be.”

For Perea, Stranger Things breakout Joseph Quinn is someone in a “relatable space,” of wondering what to do next. “I want to see what his ideas are because it’s been great to have a standout supporting role in something massive, and I think he’s going through the same thing right now.”

And, of course, there’s a former Breakthrough who has since become one of the most in-demand and acclaimed actors of her generation.

“Florence Pugh is definitely at the top of the list,” he says. “She’s delivering on performance every time and standing out in every film, and it’s just so impressive to see a young actor work at that level. At her age and our age, it’s easy to mess up these moments.”

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