Nat'l orgs line up to decry scratching of screeners

NEW YORK — Many of the national critics orgs voiced their upset about the MPAA voluntary screeners ban Wednesday.

The Broadcast Film Critics Assn. said the new policy “seems certain to penalize the certain films which count on the support of critics and academy members to bring them to the attention of movie lovers,” according to BFCA president Joey Berlin. “The BFCA will be seeking a media exemption to the new policy … Whether it is through copy-protection technology, loaner policies or some other creative solution, we believe there must be a better way to attack the very real problem of piracy.”

The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. similarly expressed its disdain for the ban.

“We strongly urge the MPAA to reconsider and withdraw the decision,” said org prexy Jean Oppenheimer, a reviewer for NPR, New Times and Screen Intl. “Granted, piracy is a big problem and films should be seen on a bigscreen. But it’s the smaller independent films that are going to suffer, and it’s a little late in the awards-season game for this ban. The timing is so wrong, it just puts the studios at even more of an advantage.”

Marking the first of the national critics orgs to air its views on the MPAA’s Oscar screener ban, the Online Film Critics Society has come forward to protest the decision and voice its skepticism about the validity of the ban as an anti-piracy measure. Other critics groups appear poised to follow.

The New York-based OFCS, an international association of Internet-based professional film journalists, feels the MPAA’s action will prove ineffective in combating film piracy, serving only to punish industry professionals not responsible for the problem.

The majority of leading national film critics bodies — which rely on screeners to recap many releases for end of year critical roundups and 10-best lists — have not released an official position on the MPAA move. However, heads of two of those orgs expressed concerns.

“I can’t speak for the organization as a whole,” said Radar magazine writer Andrew Johnston, who serves as chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, “but personally, I think that while we’re talking about studio releases, it doesn’t present a problem because we all want to see those films on a bigscreen.”

“It’s really only going to be an issue if it cuts off the supply of screeners from smaller companies, films that might be harder to get to screenings of,” he added. “Those are the ones we really need to catch up on at the end of the year — the documentaries, the foreign movies and low-budget indies. If the supply of those films stops, it would really make it hard for us to do our jobs.”

The OFCS’ protest statement specifies that while acts of video and online piracy by members of the film community have been documented and should not go unpunished, no evidence has been presented by the MPAA to suggest this activity is widespread.

Org also says there has been no evidence that film journos have engaged in such activity and that the MPAA is ignoring the well-documented fact that most video piracy occurs outside Hollywood and the film media.

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