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Hollywood’s biggest names slam Oscar-screening ban

Los Angeles, Oct. 11 (Reuters): Many of Hollywood’s biggest names, from directors Martin Scorsese and Joel Coen to actors Robert Redford and Jodie Foster, teamed up yesterday to publicly denounce a ban by the major studios on Oscar-screening DVDs and videotapes.

More than 130 filmmakers led by veteran director Robert Altman signed an open letter, published as full-page ads in industry trade papers Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, calling the ban an “unwarranted obstacle” that will keep independent, cutting-edge films from gaining the wide exposure they deserve.

The letter was addressed to Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and the chief proponent of the controversial ban, intended to thwart illegal copying of films.

“It has been said that we in the film industry are honour-bound to go along with this ban,” the letter said.

“We believe that as filmmakers, we are honour-bound to oppose it.”

The MPAA sparked a Hollywood furour when it announced last week that the seven major studios it represents, plus non-member DreamWorks SKG, had agreed to end their long-held practice of sending videos and DVDs of Oscar-contending movies to Academy Award voters.

The ban also applies to such “Indiewood” outlets as Miramax and Sony Pictures Classics, the studio-owned distributors of independent films like Monster’s Ball and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that have gained increasing Oscar recognition in recent years.

Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win a best actress Oscar for her role in Monster’s Ball in 2002.

Valenti has said the ban is intended to fight movie piracy after a year in which tapes and DVDs of several films vying for Academy Awards were copied, then appeared for sale on the black market in Asian countries and for download on the Internet.

But many in the film industry say the “screener” ban will make it harder for lower-budget movies to compete with big-studio fare at Oscar time because they play in fewer theatres and are seen by fewer members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which sponsors the Oscars.

“Many great films, and in particular films that take risks, rely on critical acclaim and, when the film is fortunate enough, Academy consideration to reach a broad audience,” the letter from filmmaker said.

“The MPAA decision to ban screeners irreparably damages the chances of such films.”

Other filmmakers joining the letter include Pedro Almodovar, Francis Ford Coppola, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Atom Egoyan, Nora Ephron, Terry Gilliam, Lasse Hallstrom, Spike Jonze, Ange Lee, Sidney Lumet, David Lynch and Sydney Pollack.

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