Oscars: Academy Delays April Board Meeting; Key Fall Film Festivals Hope To Keep Lights On For Movie Awards Season

Pete Hammond

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The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on Monday emailed Deadline that this month’s planned Board of Governors meeting, originally set for April 14, has now been delayed two weeks to Tuesday, April 28. Normally the April meeting is one that discusses the past Oscar show and analyzes it in detail with the producers. When this one does take place you can bet the subject won’t necessarily be on rehashing the 92nd Academy Awards, but rather the increasing havoc of the coronavirus crisis that could potentially impact the 93rd Oscars

Say what? The 93rd Oscar show is a little less than 11 months away, so it would seem that unless there truly is really no light at the end of this tunnel for several months, the ABC Oscar broadcast itself would not appear threatened. However, the content of it is, particularly if, in a best-case scenario, movie theaters and release schedules are back up to form by the end of July, and in a worst-case scenario sometime in the fall. The latter would be a real concern for Oscars when eligibility rules as they are currently written kick in, as does the tight fall  window for most films considered Oscar- and awards-season contenders.

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Combined with the myriad films, many of them blockbusters from studios, already delayed and moved into that fall sector, we are looking at an enormously crowded period. On top of that, many films that had been penciled in to compete in the awards arena for 2020 have had to halt production and will, first and foremost, need to get back into gear at some point to even finish shooting, much less get to post-production. Last year, the only eventual Oscar nominee of the nine finalists for Best Picture released before October was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 25, though it was first seen in May at the Cannes Film Festival, as was eventual Best Picture winner Parasite. The latter, as well as the seven other films nominated, did not open in North America until the final three months of the year.

As it is, Academy members have a tough enough time trying to get to all the movies sent to them, or in theaters, or on the Academy’s new streaming service. Being optimistic that there are the usual number of worthy contenders available, the next Oscar season could be the most densely populated ever, though it remains a big question. However, if things remain stopped in time as they are pretty much now and there are fewer goodies to choose from, does that make Vin Diesel a good bet for a Best Actor nomination for Bloodshot? 

At its governors meeting, whenever it takes place, the Academy is expected to deal with rules changes that would relax current requirements for eligibility, just as the Golden Globes have done in allowing movies debuting on streaming, cable, VOD and other TV outlets to be eligible if they were first intended for theatrical release but could not fulfill those requirements due to the closure of theaters. Although studios and distributors could still pop titles eventually into at least a seven-day qualifying run in Los Angeles County, it would probably be best to make this year a onetime exception to that rule — at least until things are back to relative normal. And considering the median age of Academy members falls within the category most endangered by exposure to the virus, how many voters out there are going to want to venture into theaters anytime soon, even when theatres, including AMPAS’ own screening venues, open their doors again and hopefully stay open (unless, as happened during the Spanish flu of 1918, when the virus reemerged with a vengeance that fall). But let’s stay positive on that prospect at least and pray it doesn’t. Keep social distancing, folks.

One of the biggest factors in recent Oscar races has been the importance of the key film festivals including Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto, but also others like New York, London and AFI. Can we live without them if they were to go away this year?  Seven of last season’s Best Picture nominees were launched at one of those festivals, and six of them appeared at multiple fests. Cannes has already canceled its scheduled May dates and is still hoping to stage the event, perhaps in a reduced form, by the end of June. Maybe it will just be French movies? Who knows?

Other major events scheduled near that summer corridor including the Olympics, Wimbledon and even two other June markets in France (Midem and Cannes Lions) are now canceled completely for this year. The Democratic National Convention has moved from mid-July to mid-August , but presumptive nominee Joe Biden suggested Sunday that, depending on developments, even it might still might have to be held virtually. Travel restrictions aside, it is hard to imagine right now how the Cannes Film Festival happens this year even though the selection process continues. One major PR executive told me, “Who wants to fly their talent anywhere now, especially into a hot zone?” Plus, you have to remember the new proposed dates for Cannes would be just 2 1/2 months from now, not as much time to keep pushing the Cannes down the road, as it were.

Without Cannes, it becomes a game of dominoes since so many like Telluride, Toronto, New York, London and AFI rely quite a bit on movies first seen on the Croisette. At least eight Cannes films traveled to Telluride for North American premieres, and many more than that to the much larger overall selection at TIFF last year. Artistic directors from just about every major festival (sans Venice) are in Cannes checking out the lineup for their own fest, and Cannes also clearly sets the table for the International Feature Oscar race (formerly Best Foreign Language Film). Three of the nominees at the 92nd Oscars were first seen in Cannes, and this year, Parasite became the first time since Marty in 1955 that the Best Picture and Palme d’Or winner were one and the same. Without Cannes leading the way, what happens to the whole International Feature race?

The Academy’s arcane method of requiring each country to put up its choice to compete would seem to make that contest a real fright show with the coronavirus knocking so many countries for a loop and making a mess of eligibility release dates in those countries. This is a pressing issue for that governors meeting: How do you bring the world together for the Oscars in the environment of a global pandemic? I guarantee you most of these countries aren’t thinking, “Hey what do we have for the Oscars, this year?” but it should be a real concern for AMPAS. This might be the perfect year to finally dump this method and maybe just make any foreign-language film eligible that manages to get finished and released in time, especially if Cannes is canceled altogether. That is the way the Golden Globes do it, and it eliminates a lot of the politics of the submission system when some countries let local considerations other than excellence enter into the conversation about which film should represent them.

As for the status of the fall festivals, I think there is basically a wait-and-see mode in action right now.  Last week, Toronto, which has closed its five theaters at the Bell complex due to the coronavirus crisis, tweeted out a video statement from toppers Cameron Bailey and Joana Vincente talking about current initiatives but also looking to the possible future if all this continues and a new plan is needed to keep their huge fest, set to run September 10-20,  alive for this year. “We recognize that in planning for the Festival now, there is still uncertainty about what people coming together will look like come September. This is why we are looking at both onsite and digital innovations that will provide options that will deliver for our audiences, support filmmakers and our partners, and bolster the industry,” the pair said.

In an interview Monday with our sister site Variety, a spokesperson for the Venice Film Festival (set to take place September 2-12) reiterated the stated intention of artistic director Alberto Barbera to keep the key awards-season launchpad on track, but not follow the path TIFF seems to be possibly considering if things go south. “The Venice Film Festival cannot be replaced by an online event. There is obviously the possibility that we use technology for some initiatives,“ but the spokesperson added it’s too early for this to be decided. Of course Italy, especially northern Italy, is among the hardest hit by coronavirus and, despite its status as a key player for Oscar hopefuls, might be a bridge too far for many contenders to feel comfortable making the trek even five months from now if the all-clear is called. It is hard to gauge since this is such unknown territory we are in; no Oscar season has had to deal with this kind of situation. If Venice does happen and Cannes doesn’t, the choice of cinematic goodies Barbera might have to choose from would be quite imposing, and a frustrating blow for Cannes trying to show it is still the preeminent showcase for any season in the one year they finally delivered the eventual Best Picture winner.

And as for Telluride, set in an enclosed tiny town in the Colorado Rockies, far fewer visitors attend, but being in such an condensed space over the Labor Day weekend could be problematic not just for attendees (some already have issues because of the altitude), but also the town itself which is thought to be the first in the country offering to have every single citizen tested for COVID-19. Last month, local papers and an ABC report said the city of Telluride was offering tests free to all combined 8,000 residents there and in San Miguel County, of which it is the biggest part. The strategy is similar to one done in Vo Euganeo, a tiny Italian town that managed to test all 3300 of its residents and, according to Live Science, reduced transmission by 90%. It is a wider scale in Telluride, and the tests being used are ELISA tests,  which reportedly can find antibodies against coronavirus. The testing is being funded by Mei Mei Hu and Louis Reese, co-founders of c19, the subsidiary of United Biomedical that is the company behind the antibody test. They also happen to be residents of Telluride. “Our goal is to show what mass testing, social distancing and isolation can do together to stop the spread of infection, and to create a model that could save lives worldwide,” they told ABC news.

How this will affect planning of the 47th Telluride Film Festival remains to be seen, but this year for the first time Telluride may not only be known for bringing some of the movie world’s most famous people to town, but also as an incubator for information helping to find a cure for this devastating virus. Would they want to take a risk by the influx of Hollywood? Well, it is a resort town, so they are used to interlopers. Interestingly, the Academy has in recent years thrown an annual party for its members, as well as officials and board governors, attending the fest right there in the heart of Telluride, and it is always a wall-to-wall affair. If it can happen again this year, it will mean Oscar season is alive and well and things may be heading to some semblance of normal. We can only hope.

Stay tuned.

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