Keeping politics at bay

Letter to the Editor

I appreciate Academy president Frank Pierson’s legitimate concerns that that the public might become as “apathetic” to the Oscars as they are to politics (“Nanny Still Needed,” Variety, March 31-April 6).

As someone who worked on campaigns for Hilary Clinton and other high-profile candidates before experiencing the past several Oscar seasons, I am confident that several key differences will always separate the Academy Awards from electoral politics.

Unfortunately, in both areas, there is too much media attention wasted on the campaigns — in the case of the Oscars, handicapping each nominee and the campaign tactics employed rather than focusing on the merits of the movies.

Every year someone drags out a controversy (since a campaign without controversy just isn’t newsworthy). But Oscar voting is limited to a select group of industry veterans with the experience and perspective to make educated decisions. In contrast to an “apathetic” American electorate, Academy voters are highly motivated.

I agree with Pierson that the Oscar process needs to be protected “on behalf of those who were nominated and won fair and square,” but the first step is expressing confidence in the voting members.

Instead, rival studios and some journalists suggest that Acad voters can easily be influenced by ads, parties, non-existent backlashes or mean-spirited gossip. The fact that our company won nine awards, including best picture, proved that talk of a Miramax backlash was simply fallacy, not fact. The Oscar results show that Academy voters continue to judge nominees on their own merits.

Voting for a political candidate is speculative, based on the likely performance. However, voting for the Academy Awards is based on something concrete: the movies themselves. Academy campaigning is an effort to encourage people to see the movies. But once people enter the theaters or screening rooms, the films must speak for themselves.

Miramax has been blamed for just about everything over the years. But we remain dedicated to marketing and supporting our movies so that as many people as possible will see them.

Few political candidates are satisfied with spending money to win a primary only to lose the general election. There’s a key difference in Oscar campaigns: When money is spent on marketing a nominated film that is in theaters, that outlay is often recouped through additional box office success and other ancillary revenues.

“In the Bedroom” and “Amelie” are examples of “smaller” independent and foreign films that saw significant box office increases from the worldwide seal of approval that their Oscar nominations provided.

Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein has often stated his support of the continuing efforts by Pierson and the Academy to prevent any devaluing of the Oscars.

Like Pierson and others in the industry, Weinstein understands that campaigning in general has sometimes gotten out of hand. So we are looking forward to meeting with the Academy and the other studios to clarify existing Oscar rules, to potentially establish new guidelines, and to implement an independent enforcement mechanism — to keep the focus more on the movies and less on the distractions.

Sadly, the level of political participation in this country is deteriorating. But the Oscars will never lose their magic: While people have become more disengaged from the political process, they love the movies more than ever.

Matthew Hiltzik

senior VP, corporate communications and government relations, Miramax Films

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