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Going by the letter

MPAA chief replies to screener complaints

While Jack Valenti shows no signs of softening his position on awards-consideration screeners, the MPAA chief has been deluged with letters from a growing constituency opposed to the studio-backed ban. And he has been responding personally to every one of them.

“A lot of people think this is a conspiracy,” Valenti told Daily Variety. “But how can it be a conspiracy when the subsidiaries of the majors are distributing 90% of these films? What’s the alternative? To sit by inert and inactive and watch screeners be sent out?

“I cannot stand by and casually see the piracy of screeners,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Valenti said on Monday alone he had replied to between 30 and 50 letters, including missives from directors Norman Jewison and Nora Ephron.

However, while a group letter went out to the MPAA president from representatives of studio specialty divisions and independent distribs following Friday evening’s conference call meeting, Valenti said he was not aware of having received the letter.

Sources close to the specialty group said the letter offered support for the MPAA’s efforts to crush film piracy but pointed out that the screener ban approach had not been sufficiently thought through to be implemented at this late stage and did not represent a valid solution.

Valenti undaunted

Reiterating his position, Valenti seemed undaunted by the vocal opposition front that has assembled since the ban was announced last week, bringing together members from all branches of the industry.

“I have to combat piracy,” Valenti said. “We can’t stand by and let that be unattended. If we send out more screeners, the same thing will happen again. I liken it to a hole in a dike. You put a finger in to stop it.

“I’ve only got one motive in life: to protect the industry and to protect jobs,” he added.

Evidence of a link

Protesters within the indie community have complained repeatedly that Valenti has not provided evidence of a concrete link between Oscar screeners and piracy. But the MPAA chief is convinced that an indirect chain exists.

“The Academy members are not the reason for piracy,” he said. “But they give their screeners to friends and relatives, who then pass them along to their friends and relatives, and by the time the daisy chain has finished, the screeners are into the hands of pirates.

“The Academy functioned for the first 55 years without screeners and small films still got awards,” he continued. “Only in the last 12 years have the studios been sending out screeners.”

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