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Academy President John Bailey on Extending Oscars’ Global Reach

John Bailey, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, spoke to members of international film industry at Camerimage film festival in Poland this week about how changes will help broaden the pool of voters selecting the foreign-language Oscar nominees, as well as ongoing measures to make the body more diverse, plans for the 90th anniversary awards show, and how he had been drafted in to help represent the views of those working in production.

Changes to the method by which Oscar voters get to see shortlisted foreign-language films will up the number of those who are able to take part in the poll. The nine shortlisted films are currently only available for voting members to see on cinema screens in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and London. But Bailey said an announcement will go out next month that members in Europe or elsewhere will be able to see shortlisted foreign-language films via streaming.

“Although it’s not ideal” in terms of technical quality, the process will help ensure that more Academy voters can participate in the process that ends with the nomination of five foreign-language films.

The move should ensure that more members view the record 92 films submitted for the 2018 Oscars race, Bailey said. Increasingly, voters find it challenging to see so many films submitted from around the globe.

The boosted access to the nomination process runs in parallel with continued efforts to make AMPAS membership more diverse – not just by including more U.S. minorities and women but by reaching out to veteran filmmakers from around the world with an expanded membership drive.

Currently, some 6,000-plus mainly American members are eligible to vote in the awards process but movements such as #OscarsSoWhite have led to reforms to address the academy’s large percentage of older American white male members.

Bailey, the first cinematographer ever elected president, is only the second to take the office from the below-the-line sector.

Bailey said he feels “a visceral, bodily connection to this art form,” at a talk on the history of the academy at the Camerimage fest center in Bydgoszcz.

The man who filmed “The Big Chill,” “Groundhog Day” and “A Walk in the Woods” has a keen interest in both film history and preservation and in international films has been active in ensuring that foreign-language films continue to screen, and has advocated in the past for nominations for such European sensations as Bela Tarr’s “Turin Horse” and Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Dogtooth.”

Bailey, who took over the academy presidency from Cheryl Boone Isaacs this year, said he was invited to speak at Camerimage, Europe’s prime fest for cinematography, because he is bringing first-hand knowledge of filmmaking to the academy presidency for the first time in years.

The 75-year-old DP confessed he “got drafted” to run for the presidency by colleagues who also felt the academy has too long been headed by executives and publicists who have little practical experience of the production process.

In addition to diversity issues, Bailey – who also appeared on a diversity panel at Camerimage – faces the ongoing dilemma of a planned academy museum, which he has said should integrate existing collections at the Margaret Herrick library and Pickford Center’s Academy Film Archive.

Flagging ratings for the Oscars awards show, which airs Mar. 4, is another challenge facing the academy. Next year’s broadcast will dispense with the traditional, heavily draped “gossamer” look and focus more on history, including clips from great films, Bailey said, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the organization.

In addition, for future broadcasts, he said, “I want to break the proscenium,” incorporating more dynamic camera angles, perspectives and glimpses of backstage action to help “show the skeleton” of the production.

Bailey also voiced hope that members are dedicated to keeping the academy relevant, noting the virtual reality special award competition that was recently announced.

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