Helmer Forman feted for rights fight

Winning a warm and often impassioned reception, director Milos Forman accepted the John Huston Award for Artists Rights Friday night for his fight in support of artistic freedom around the globe.

Forman, an Oscar winner for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus,” and most recently nominated for “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” received a nearly two-minute standing ovation, which culminated the four-hour Artists Rights Foundation event. The Czech-born filmmaker was feted both for perseverance under Communism and for his ongoing battle for stronger U.S. legislation protecting the rights of artists.

“I do not wholly blame the Hollywood studios for perpetuating this situation,” Forman said to about 750 attendees at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. “I do blame the members of the House and Senate, who have been so incomprehensibly reluctant” to change a law which equates financial ownership with authorship.

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Forman chastised Washington lawmakers’ treatment of American culture as “nothing more than a commodity on the stock market.” Forman has made strong appeals to Congress to support artists rights legislation — particularly to require the labeling of altered works — and has been a staunch advocate for full recognition of the Berne Treaty, which gives authors the right to object to alterations of their works after release.

In presenting the award, director Martin Scorsese, last year’s Huston Award winner, praised Forman for his impact on audiences around the world.

“There’s always a wonderful sense of giving and an abundant warmth, as though the film is a gift to the audience,” Scorsese said of the director’s work. He also read missives of congratulation to Forman from President Clinton and Czech playwright/political leader Vaclav Havel. “And that’s largely due to the fact the these films celebrate the necessity of freedom, whether it’s artistic freedom, as in ‘Amadeus,’ or political freedom, as in ‘Larry Flynt.’ ”

Earlier, U.S. House minority leader Richard Gephardt presented the Artists Rights Foundation’s first Stewardship Award to Mark Getty on behalf of his father, John Paul Getty, for protection of the arts.

“What is important is that we preserve both the physical and artistic integrity of art forms that characterize our civilization and culture,” Mark Getty said in accepting the award. “The greatest art form of the 20th century is film. It’s our greatest expression.”

Friday’s event, emceed by writer/producer Fay Kanin, included salutes to Forman by producer Saul Zaentz, actresses/directors Penny Marshall and Anjelica Huston, actor/director Kevin Spacey, actors James Woods, Sid Caesar and Edward Norton, actress Annette Bening, Artists Rights Foundation prexy Elliot Silverstein and ARF chairman Gene Reynolds.

Huston echoed Forman’s call for stronger authorship rights. “As an organization, we have to challenge ourselves and get real about what’s going on,” Huston told Daily Variety, referring to the widening range of opportunities for technological image manipulation. “It’s finally down to the director — what he or she wishes to do with the film.”

“It’s tough because (the artists) are fighting the studios, because the studios see it as one more step,” Zaentz told Daily Variety, referring to filmmakers’ quest for greater control of their works.

Woods, though, was vitriolic in his criticism of ads placed in trade papers reprinting a New York Times editorial by Gloria Steinem that depicted “Larry Flynt” as degrading to women. In his speech, which drew cheers from audience members, Woods accused Steinem of organizing an anonymously funded campaign to defame Forman and the pic. Woods equated the alleged Steinem campaign to blacklisting led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Earlier on Friday, the Artists Rights Foundation concluded a two-day symposium with a debate between Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz and Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The two hours of legal wrangling centered on the proposed need for more laws to protect filmmakers’ rights.

Dershowitz advocated updating current trademark and copyright legislation, which he deemed no longer adequate to advances in motion pictures and other modern arts. “Good laws keep lawyers out of court,” Dershowitz said. “It’s vague and ambiguous laws that keep them in court.”

Kozinski, unlike Dershowitz, was against new legislation, which he said could prevent turning great works of literature, such as Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” into film. “If we apply very broad moral rights, we are giving up living and dead artists’ rights, which would seriously interfere with creativity.”

At Friday’s luncheon, Senate Judiciary Committee leader Orrin Hatch, who spoke live via videoconference from Washington, said he would not support artists rights that would have negative economic implications.

The motion picture industry “is an important part of our national economy and is crucial to our balance of trade,” Hatch said. “I can’t support artists’ rights to the long-term detriment of the film industry.” Hatch later called on “the individual creators and the studios (to) sit down in good faith to try to work out the practical implementation of moral rights, which the U.S. has acceded in the Berne Convention.”

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