Indie filmmakers, actors blast Oscar DVD ban. In a group statement, they say the ban will not stem piracy, only the making of risky, awards-worthy movies

By Gary Susman
October 02, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

In two unprecedented gatherings on Wednesday, prominent actors, filmmakers, producers, and executives from the independent film world met in New York to respond to Tuesday’s decision by the Motion Picture Academy of America to forbid distributors from sending year-end video ”screeners” of movies to Oscar voters and other awards juries. The MPAA had said it was halting the flow of DVDs and VHS tapes to thwart piracy, but the independent film community sees the move as benefiting the big studios, with their widely distributed films, at the expense of smaller, riskier movies, hurting their chances to win awards and reap the box office benefit of those prizes.

Those most clearly hurt by the ban may be the art-film divisions of the major studios, which are all MPAA members (Non-MPAA indies like Lions Gate, Magnolia, and IFP Films are not subject to the ban.) According to the Hollywood Reporter, chief executives from the studios’ boutiques — including MGM’s United Artists, Disney’s Miramax, Universal’s Focus, New Line’s Fine Line, and Sony Pictures Classics — met in person or via teleconference at New York’s Four Seasons Hotel on Wednesday to ask questions and come up with a response to the ban. The execs were expected to formulate a statement Thursday or Friday.

There’s already been a group statement condemning the ban from 33 actors, writers, directors, and producers. Indie film clearinghouse IFP/New York organized the joint statement, whose signers included actors Selma Blair, Steve Buscemi, Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, and Tracey Ullman; directors Robert Altman and John Waters; screenwriter Bill Condon (”Gods and Monsters,” ”Chicago”); and producers Ted Hope (”American Splendor”) and Christine Vachon (”Far From Heaven”). The statement read, in part, ”This last minute policy change will seriously diminish the diversity and quality of independent films immediately, and the mainstream film industry in the long run; Oscar consideration is a primary motivating factor behind the funding of riskier films, those of more serious content, films with ambitious narrative aspirations. Lacking Oscar potential these films will not be made.”

The IFP/New York group said it was mindful of piracy concerns but that Academy voters and other insiders targeted by the ban were far less likely to contribute to piracy than people outside the U.S., insiders at film processing and DVD mastering facilities, and illicit camcorder tapers in theaters. The group urged the MPAA to crack down on piracy from those sources and to resume sending screener tapes and discs with encoded watermarks and individual copy numbers that would help investigators trace pirated copies to the leakers.