Avati pulls pic out of Oscar race as protest

ROME — With the deadline for foreign Oscar submissions looming Wednesday, Pupi Avati has pulled his drama “A Heart Elsewhere” from the race in Italy in protest at the Ente Davide di Donatello, which handles the voting.

Many industryites are up in arms after discovering this week that 112 new names had been added to the jury in July, bumping it up to 480. The criteria used to pick the new voters was not released — and some are not known industry figures.

The jury also picks the winners of Italy’s top film prizes, the David awards.

In a letter to Davide di Donatello prexy Gian Luigi Rondi, “Heart” producer Antonio Avati, Pupi Avati’s brother, said the jury’s unannounced expansion lacked “transparency.” He warned it could cause speculation that it was an underhand move to favor his brother, who is head of Cinecitta Holding, parent company of Rome’s Cinecitta Studios.

Northern Arts Entertainment recently acquired U.S. rights to “Heart,” said to be gaining momentum as a candidate.

Avati announced his decision to drop out a day before the close of voting today, in what is turning out to be the country’s most heated competition for a shot at an Oscar in recent memory.

The timing poses a serious technical problem. Since voting opened Monday it is unclear whether ballots already cast for Avati’s pic can now be recast for another contender.

Calls to Ente Davide di Donatello in Rome were not returned on Thursday. Avoid ‘embarrassments’

“The whole David needs to change in order to avoid embarrassments like last year when Roberto Benigni’s ‘Pinocchio,’ was selected,” said producer Domenico Procacci, whose “Respiro” was shut out last year after a hard-fought campaign.

The top contenders now appear to be Gabriele Salvatores’ “I’m Not Scared,” which Miramax acquired earlier this year in Berlin, and Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Facing Window,” which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics in Toronto.

Meanwhile, Denmark has chosen Cannes Camera d’Or winner “Reconstruction,” helmed by Christoffer Boe, as its submission for foreign-lingo Oscar consideration. The offbeat boy-meets-girl tale also nabbed the Fipresci Grand Prix prize for director at the San Sebastian Film Festival last week.

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