By Indiewire | Indiewire March 20, 2003 at 2:00AM
DISPATCH FROM L.A.: Less Glamour Expected as War Talk Dominates Oscar Week
by Eugene Hernandez
The week leading up to the annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles is historically a festive one, marked by numerous celebrations to commemorate the year's best films. Studios and industry organizations typically host receptions and dinners to honor their nominees, and on the eve of the Oscars, the Independent Spirit Awards celebrate some of the films that have made a mark outside of the Hollywood system. This week, though, with war dominating the headlines, the festivities have taken on a more serious tone with some pundits questioning the need for such celebrations.
This year's Oscar ceremony was designed as a major event with the Academy celebrating the 75th anniversary of the annual awards. Now though, organizers have been working to determine how to stage the annual ceremony given the national mood and with the expectation that developing events overseas could interrupt the live nationwide broadcast. Oscar ceremony producer Gil Cates addressed the issue during a Tuesday press conference that was carried live on local television here in Southern California. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is preparing a more "sober" event and it has already curtailed the annual red carpet festivities, with celebrities planning to quietly make a short walk into the Kodak auditorium without posing for photos or stopping for interviews. Beyond that, Cates and organizers have yet to reveal specific plans for the awards telecast should war news break during Sunday night's live program. More details are anticipated later in the week.
"We all understand that the country is on the brink of war and may be sending American men and women into harm's way almost as we speak," Gil Cates said on Tuesday. "We must prepare for the show to be produced under those circumstances."
At Oscar viewing parties, a more authentic sense of drama may replace the usual chatter about attendees outfits. On Sunday in fact, Academy Awards viewers will no doubt be watching to see how some of the more outspoken Hollywood personalities might choose to use their time on worldwide television. Actress Susan Sarandon, a well-known activist, was confirmed as an Oscar presenter earlier this week, as were Richard Gere and Dustin Hoffman. The politically driven Irish band U2 are among the musical performers on tap. Cates is encouraging presenters to stick to the script, but acknowledged that winners will have 45 seconds to say what they wish.
Continuing without any change in plans is Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards, presented by IFP/Los Angeles. In conversations with indieWIRE this week, organization Executive Director Dawn Hudson continually reiterated that the show will go as expected, with no changes. And she expects that the war will be a hot topic both on and off stage. While celebrities will not be able to talk with reporters when they arrive for the Oscars, guests at the annual Spirit Awards on the beach in Santa Monica will be able to speak their mind.
"We are not in the business of trying to create an image of Hollywood," Hudson told indieWIRE. "We are in the business of asking questions and giving alternative points of view."
"At the very heart of the independent film movement are artists who speak their minds to express themselves however controversial or unpopular," Hudson said, "That is the very heart of independent filmmaking." Concluding she said, "It is our mission to support that."
The latest news from Iraq will no doubt dominate discussions on Thursday night at the IFP/Los Angeles' celebration for the Independent Spirit Awards nominees in Beverly Hills. While over at the Academy headquarters, the IDA will be showcasing this year's documentary Oscar nominees and buzz about the war will also likely be topic number one.
With a number of politically charged and socially relevant pictures up for awards this year, observers are wondering if the recent climate will affect the types of films that win prizes.
"If 'The Pianist' wins, (that will show that) people are in a much more thoughtful mood," said Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker in a conversation with indieWIRE this week. Barker explained that he sees an increased appreciation for more thoughtful films.
"I do believe there's an emphasis on movies that are very sincere and very relevant to the preservation of human qualities," Michael Barker said. "That has a lot to do with the success of 'Talk to Her,'" he added.
Other nominees that could benefit from a shifting focus include Michael Moore's documentary "Bowling for Columbine" and Phillip Noyce's "The Quiet American." In the case of the Noyce film, concerns at Miramax given the national mood after 9/11 almost prevented the movie from getting a release date.
One Oscar nominee who has been on the front lines of a war is "The Quiet American" star Michael Caine. A soldier during the Korean War, he has been a staunch advocate for the film since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival where Caine worked hard to promote the picture along with its director Noyce.
"We've got to keep going, otherwise you are defeated," Caine said during a conversation with indieWIRE last week. "You pick yourself up and dust yourself off. We're in show business."
[Editor-in-Chief Eugene Hernandez is in Los Angeles reporting on Oscar week
and the Independent Spirit Awards for indieWIRE.]