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by Indiewire
March 1, 2004 2:00 AM
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MPAA and "Passion" Talk Dominate Awards Weekend

MPAA and "Passion" Talk Dominate Awards Weekend

by Eugene Hernandez



Bob Berney, head of Newmarket Films, with Jeanne Berney of The Berney Group/P&F Communications, at the Spirit Awards on Saturday. Credit: Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.


Mel Gibson's "The Passion of The Christ" and the infamous screener ban were among the hot topics on the Los Angeles party circuit this weekend as independents and Hollywood honored their favorite films and filmmakers of 2003.

Hello Jack Valenti!

Over at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica on Saturday afternoon, Jack Valenti made a surprise appearance on stage at the start of the show. As host John Waters told a story about a recent prison sentence for letting a screener copy fall into the hands of bootleggers, MPAA head Valenti walked on stage to apprehend the host and escorted him away in handcuffs as the audience roared with applause and laughter.

It was clear to many Oscar observers this weekend that the independent producers winning an injunction against Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) last year yielded nominations from smaller films this year, from Alec Baldwin in Lions Gate's "The Cooler" for best supporting actor to Charlize Theron and Keisha Castle-Hughes for best actress in Newmarket's "Monster" and "Whale Rider" respectively.

The Valenti moment at the Spirits came together with the MPAA chief giving IFP head Dawn Hudson an immediate yes after she called inviting him to attend and participate. "I love the fact that he immediately said yes," Hudson told indieWIRE yesterday, "He didn't have to consult with anybody he just said yes.

"Its probably impolitic of me to say this," Hudson added, "But I felt throughout, that he was, in his heart, on our side." Continuing Hudson said, "He was always presenting the best case possible to the studios."

The MPAA and the group of independent producers are negotiating a settlement of their lawsuit ahead of Valenti's anticipated departure from the organization. A search is ongoing for his replacement.

"Passion" Talk

It was hard to avoid talk about Mel Gibson's controversial "The Passion of The Christ," even though many of the people surveyed informally at parties this weekend had not yet seen the movie. Newmarket's Bob Berney and Icon head Bruce Davey, in a conversation with indieWIRE on Sunday morning, reported an estimated $117.5 million since the film opened on Wednesday. The picture made more than $76 million this weekend alone according to the estimate, giving it a per screen average of about $25,000.

"The feeling is that it is an event movie," Davey explained, saying that he is already seeing repeat business in theaters. "We're just thrilled, its fantastic (that) an independent is able to achieve tremendous results," Berney said.

"I don't know that we ever looked at it as a risk," Davey explained, when asked whether he and Gibson had doubts about the film. "It is encouraging in terms of the way we could continue to do feature movies, not needing a studio to distribute -- there is life after the studios." Berney and Davey declined to discuss the amount of money that has been spent on marketing and P&A for the release. Asked whether the film is already profitable, Davey simply said that he'd have to talk to his business managers to find out.

Finally, Davey discounted any talk of "blacklisting" of Gibson or Icon as a result of the film, referring to news reports last week. "I suspect that those stories were written by ill-informed journalists," he said Sunday.

The film was mentioned a few times by Oscar host Billy Crystal who joked that this year's ceremony was being simulcast in Aramaic. The film is an unbelievable hit, Crystal added, "It opened on Ash Wednesday and had a Good Friday..."

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