Breaking his long silence on the screener controversy, Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein voiced his concerns about the compromise solution Thursday, calling on the MPAA and the studios to reconsider.
“Even though the Academy ban has been repealed, we do not feel that our mission is complete,” said Weinstein, who was asked to speak by fellow members of the Independent Working Group comprising the studio subsidiaries most affected by the ban.
“We are deeply concerned that SAG, BAFTA, the critics across the country and the Hollywood Foreign Press are still cut out of the process.”
Weinstein also urged the MPAA and the studios to “address the future” to ensure that technology is in place “so that screeners can be sent in subsequent years.”
He also addressed the needs of the media and suggested VHS tapes be made available to press on an “as-needed basis.”
Meanwhile, a delegation of film critics, including the heads of the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. and the National Society of Film Critics, will meet with Jack Valenti next week in an attempt to negotiate a further shift in the MPAA chief’s position on awards screeners.
Like the various industry guilds, the critics groups were shut out of the compromise solution announced last week by Valenti to the screener ban, under which distribs will be allowed to send out tapes to Academy members only.
The Los Angeles critics took the strongest position against the initial ban, announcing that the group’s annual awards would be cancelled this year if distribution of screeners was not reinstated.
“Until I have something new to present to the group, we are sticking with our decision to cancel the awards,” said LAFCA president Jean Oppenheimer. “At the moment, nothing has changed. There may be a second vote about our awards but that won’t take place until after the meeting with Valenti.”
Oppenheimer wrote to Valenti following last week’s announcement of the revised Academy-only plan, requesting further dialogue on the subject. As a result, a face-to-face meeting with Valenti has been set up for Thursday in Los Angeles.
Peter Rainer, who is a member of LAFCA and chairman of the National Society of Film Critics, also has requested to participate, along with a handful of prominent Los Angeles-based critics.
“When I heard about this, I thought it would be good to have some representatives of the National Society there as well to see what a sit-down with Valenti might accomplish,” said Rainer.
“It’s not the Wannsee Conference or NATO. But the feeling is that having dealt at a distance with this issue throughout its run, that it would be a nice gesture all around if we were to sit down and see if something comes out of that.”
The NSFC and other parallel orgs like the New York Film Critics Circle did not choose to follow their Los Angeles colleagues’ lead and cancel awards, despite expressing opposition to the MPAA edict and reservations as to the effectiveness in combatting piracy of withholding screeners from film critics.
While official statements have generally been mild, since the compromise was announced members within some of the key critics groups have expressed regret that their orgs did not present a more hardline united front with the Los Angeles critics.
Given the volume of theatrical openers each week, many critics regularly use VHS or DVD copies to see independent releases, more marginal titles or docu features, the majority of which lose nothing by being seen on a small screen. Critics groups also rely on screeners at awards time to recap releases from the early part of the year.
Rainer will take the results of the Valenti meeting back to the NSFC members to gauge response before commenting on any possible further action. However, he gave no indication that the org is poised to scratch its awards in sympathy with LAFCA.
“I think whatever’s done will be done very rapidly,” added Rainer.
“This whole process has been a very long haul. It’s getting fairly close to when these awards are voted on in mid-December so it’s an open question how fast this thing could be initiated even if it were turned around, especially if they want to put electronic safeguards into these tapes.”