Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Roger and Me" Academy Myths

Alternative Film Guide thinking film

by Andre Soares

Top Ten Biggest Oscar Snubs - Nominations #5

Roger & Me (1990)

Though attacked in some quarters for distorting facts to fit them into its director’s political agenda, Michael Moore’s Roger & Me, about Moore’s frustrated attempts to meet with General Motors honcho Roger Smith, was a box-office hit (for a documentary) and, generally speaking, a critical success, winning best documentary awards from the Los Angeles Critics, the National Board of Review, and the National Society of Film Critics, among others.

Roger & Me, however, was left Academy Award-nominationless.

Well, among those attacking Roger & Me was Academy Documentary Committee chairman Mitchell Block, who called the movie "unethical."

But wait …

It was then pointed out that Block had no qualms about potential unethical behavior — as in, blatant conflict of interest — for chairing a committee that in the year in question happened to pick three nominated films released by the documentary distribution company Direct Cinema, of which Block was president.

Mr. Soares,

It's interesting how factual errors live on.

For the "record."

1. I was never the chair of the documentary committee. I was one of the committee members for over 20 years.

2. AMPAS rules prohibited committtee members from voting or discussing films they had any connection to. To lobby for any film would be somewhat obvious to any of the 50 or so members of this small committee. I was not able to "vote" for my films, I was on record for my conflicts. Under AMPAS weighted ballot counting procedures not voting a film would hurt it in the ballot counting process.

3. Direct Cinema at the time did distribute three of the nominated films, including the winner, COMMON THREADS: STORIES FROM THE QUILT. COMMON THREADS was produced by Warner's HBO division, ROGER AND ME was released by Warner's Theatrical division.

Direct Cinema's PR director was hired by Warners on a freelance basis to work as a consultant on ROGER AND ME's Oscar campaign to try to reverse the committee's perception that the negative reviews of the film's distortions of "truth." This was the devestating review of ROGER by Critic, Pauline Kael in the New Yorker.

4. The other nominees of 1989 included ADAM CLAYTON POWELL, CRACK USA: COUNTRY UNDER SIEGE, FOR ALL MANKIND and SUPER CHIEF: THE LEGACY OF EARL WARREN. Interestingly the filmmakers of three of the other nominated features have multiple nominations (and/or Oscars). FOR ALL MANKIND by first time nominees received multiple awards in 1989 for its excellence.

5. COMMON THREADS continues to be praised for its excellence, historical accurate telling of the causes (and effects) of the AIDS epidemic. Robert Epstein one of it's two filmmakers is currently an elector Governor of the Documentary Branch.

6. Direct Cinema's documentary films continued to to receive multi-documentary Oscar nominations (and Oscars) after the committee was restructured so that members who had any conflict of interest could not participate in the nomination process and a few years later the Academy Doc Branch was formed. Because of the new "conflict" rule adapted several years later, I could no longer serve on the committee.

7. Today controversy continues to dog the Branch for omissions, clicks, etc.

8. Mr. Moore showed that creating controversy about the Oscars can sell movie tickets.

9. In Flint, a lawyer representing a number of the cast of ROGER AND ME prevailed in a court case to remove his clients from future releases of the film because Michael Moore placed them in a "false light."

Mitchell Block

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