With all the hype surrounding the Oscars, which has become a 365-day watercooler topic in Hollywood, if not an obsession, it’s easy to overlook what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does the rest the of the year. But if Dawn Hudson — the Acad’s newly appointed CEO — has her way, recognition of the 6,000-member organization’s other achievements, many of them philanthropic, will not be so taken for granted.
“It’s a better kept secret than it should be,” says Hudson, barely three months into the job, about the Acad’s ongoing investment in philanthropy, which she considers a key part of its DNA. “We’re like a great anonymous donor. We’ve given out over $20 million in the last 20 years, and that’s just in supporting visiting artist programs, animation programs, festivals, communities and job training for talented kids.”
Key among these initiatives are the Media Literacy Program, which brings to the Acad 800 high school juniors a year from the L.A. Unified School District to help intelligently discern media messages; a Global Outreach Program in which Acad members travel as far as Iran, Vietnam and Kenya to provide artistic guidance and share technical expertise to aspiring filmmakers; and its Visiting Artists Program, which covers colleges, media arts centers and festivals in their efforts to interact with working film professionals.
Then there’s the Nicholl Fellowships for screenwriting, a competition from which up to five $30,000 fellowships are awarded each year to up-and-coming scribes. Alums include Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”), Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”) and Jason Micallef, the 2008 winner whose “Butter” premiered in Toronto this year.
There’s a certain champion-of-the-underdog mentality that goes into these efforts, and since she cut her teeth as the longtime head of Film Independent, the non-profit org that fosters indie filmmaking and produces the Spirit Awards, Hudson knows what it’s like for scrappy cineastes to beat impossible odds and make a living pursuing their passion.
Just don’t suggest that as a newfound member of the Academy brass she has joined the Establishment. “The Academy is a membership organization of artists,” she says. “Their commitment to excellence and making this art form accessible is the thing. Artists are artists whether you are in the studio system or the independent system. It’s not the NBA.”