HFPA members hope their picks influence peers

The Academy has thousands of voters, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. a mere 83. So can a few passionate members influence their colleagues when it comes to nominations and championing a favorite film? Yes, say insiders, who cite such recent polarizing films as “The Reader,” “Revolutionary Road” and “Hairspray,” all of which did well with the org despite mixed critical response. Respected, long-serving members can be “very persuasive,” says one HFPA voter, and can help “rally support” for a particular favorite, even if opinion among their peers is sharply divided.

Members are more reluctant to address the issue in public. “We all have strong opinions, and we all discuss (the films we’ve seen), but I’m not sure any of us can really ‘champion’ a film or help push for any nomination,” says Gabriel Lerman, who writes for the Spanish market. Adds Scott Orlin of Germany’s Cinema Magazine, “If you’re really passionate about a particular film or performance, you can really help raise awareness among the other members. Maybe that translates in some way.”

Privately, however, some members allow that cliques and groups can help push favorite films, and that even gentle pressure and strong recommendations are factors, especially when it comes to foreign films. “Choosing best actor or best film, that’s far easier, as we’re all aware of the possible choices, and we all see the films during the year,” Lerman notes, “but the foreign film category is just overwhelming … so the input from other members is very important. You do pay attention to an opinion you respect.”

The HFPA is a relatively close-knit group. They congregate and talk to one another frequently. And as one awards season consultant confides, “I’ve always said word of mouth is the best campaign on the planet, and there’s nothing better than to have your colleagues recommend something.” For his part, Lerman has been pushing his HFPA peers to see the Argentinian film “El secreto de sus ojos” (The Secret in Their Eyes). “It’s a great film,” he says, “and I tell members who might not be aware of it, ‘You should watch this. Don’t let it slip under the radar.'”

“After a screening there’s always a lot of discussion amongst us,” acknowledges HFPA prexy Philip Berk. “We all take our duties very seriously. I for one make a point of watching every nominated film a second time.”

Jorge Camara, who writes for Mexico and the Dominican Republic and who has served as HFPA president six times, stresses, “We’re all very opinionated and our members come from very different cultures. Some members always have favorites, but all our voting is in secret. We discuss what we’ve seen, and voice opinions, but that’s it.” — Iain Blair

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