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Jewison protests Oscar 'screener' ban

By KAREN BUTLER   |   Oct. 7, 2003 at 1:13 PM   |   Comments

NEW YORK, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- Filmmaker Norman Jewison is protesting the Motion Picture Association of America's recent ban on Oscar screeners on the grounds the move will limit the exposure of small independent films appearing in fewer theaters than major studio movies.

With the number of films released at the end of the year -- prime Oscar season -- almost tripling over the last decade, Academy members have found it impossible to see everything.

In previous years, studios and firms representing independent films have sent out copies of their films on DVD and video in hopes of maximizing the films' exposure by allowing people to view the movies in their own homes.

The Academy has said it decided to ban this practice because it is trying to prevent poor, unauthorized copies of films from being illegally sold on the street and the Internet, a crime that costs the American film industry approximately $3 billion a year. While filmmakers and studios agree they don't want to lose money to video pirates, many also argue that the ban on Oscar screeners goes too far and does more harm than good.

In a letter to MPAA President and CEO Jack Valenti, Jewison writes: "When every Academy member can view all the films in contention, then it's a fair and even playing field. However, when the small independent film, which depends on its artistic appeal rather than wide commercial distribution by an MPA member, is now denied access the playing field becomes unfair and uneven. Piracy to a small independent film seeking an audience is simply good word of mouth. Artistic accomplishments in film should not be compromised in an effort to protect the interests of the major studios. Jack, I understand your struggle against the very real problem of piracy in film, but I don't agree with this action directed towards members of the Academy."

Valenti recently sent out a memo extending the ban to screeners of films already released on video and DVD, as well.

"It has been reported that some subsidiaries believe it is OK to send out screeners if the film has been released in home video form," Valenti writes in the memo. "This is incorrect. The policy is -- no screeners of any kind are allowed to be sent out. Once an exemption is made, the barn door is wide open. I hope you will instruct your subsidiaries that no screeners are to be mailed, whether they have been released in home video/DVD or not."

Valenti announced last week that the member companies of the MPAA and their subsidiaries, along with DreamWorks and New Line, would not send out any screeners for awards consideration purposes, citing "a determined commitment to combat digital piracy and to save movie jobs in the future."

Valenti underscored the deeply felt views of the MPAA Member Companies, along with DreamWorks and New Line, that digital thievery is the top priority of the Association.

Valenti said: "The MPAA intends to deploy every weapon at its command. We have demonstrated this through the development and launch of a public education campaign utilizing public service announcements, theater trailers, a project with Junior Achievement and one million students in grades 5 through 9 studying what copyright means. We will also, as necessary, embrace and utilize law enforcement and technology, exiling no options across a broad front to ensure continuing employment for the almost one million men and women who work in some aspect of the movie industry."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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