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‘Place’ sues Academy

The latest skirmish over Uruguay’s “A Place in the World” erupted yesterday when the director and others connected with the film filed suit challenging its disqualification as a nominee for the foreign-language Oscar.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by director Adolfo Aristarain and others, seeks to force the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to reinstate the movie for Oscar consideration.

In addition, the plaintiffs asked Judge A. Andrew Hauk for an order requiring the Academy to refrain from deleting the film from the list of nominees and from instructing its members not to consider the film as a candidate. The suit was filed by Aristarain, the film’s co-story author/casting director/costume designer Kathy Saavedra and Cinemateca Uruguaya.

The plaintiffs also seek an order forcing the Academy to issue a press release and to notify all of its members that “A Place in the World” will not be deprived of its nomination and that it will remain in the competition for the Oscar.

Oscar ballots, due to be mailed Wednesday, presently do not include “A Place in the World.”

The Academy disqualified Uruguay’s “A Place in the World” last Thursday (Daily Variety, Feb. 26), saying it is essentially an Argentine production. The Academy said an investigation determined that not enough Uruguayan artists participated in the production. Aristarain insisted that “A Place in the World” is actually a co-production of the two countries.

Although he could not be reached yesterday, Aristarain said in a statement: “I am genuinely distressed that this matter had to take this course. While I regret that this action had to be taken, there was unfortunately no other recourse. The importance of the nomination and its resulting exposure for the Uruguayan film industry, and indeed that of all Latin America, cannot be overstated.”

Allegations made

The suit alleges that the Academy failed to take into consideration that the story for “A Place in the World” was created by Saavedra, a Uruguayan citizen, and that one of the film’s stars, Gaston Batyi, is a dual citizen of Uruguay and Argentina.

“When the Academy disqualified the film, they told the public through a press release (that) the contribution of Mr. Batyi was not significant because he was the fifth-billed star,” Aristarain said. “But anyone who has seen the picture knows that he is in every scene.”

Defending Acad’s case

David Quinto of the Academy’s law firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Oliver, said the Acad is on solid ground.

“I’m confident that the Academy’s position will be upheld,” Quinto said yesterday. “It’s quite clear that ‘A Place in the World’ was looking for a flag of convenience, and it’s also quite clear that the Academy rules reserve to the Academy the right to resolve all questions regarding eligibility.”

Aristarain attorney Vincent H. Chieffo of Gipson, Hoffman & Pancione disagreed. “A contract was entered into between the Academy and the Cinemateca Uruguaya, as well as with Aristarain and Saavedra,” he said. “They are like any contract organization. That’s why we have courts. Even the Academy has to observe the law.”

Rules vague

Edward Labowitz, another of Aristarain’s attorneys, said the Academy rules are vague and do not state that when a film involves two countries it must be proved that one country contributed more than the other. “The precedents set by the Academy do not support the Academy’s disqualification of this film,” Labowitz said.

Labowitz also argued that “Close to Eden,” nominated as a Russian foreign-language film, is either French or Mongolian, not Russian.

As for the rules governing a film’s country of origin, Academy executive director Bruce Davis said last week, “There has to be substantial filmmaking input from the country that submits the film.” But, he added, “The Academy’s rules are very broad in that matter.”

Reached yesterday, Academy president Robert Rehme had no comment on the lawsuit.

A hearing will be held today in Los Angeles.

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