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by Nigel M Smith
December 15, 2011 11:02 AM
8 Comments
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PGA Responds to 'Circumstance' Producer, Says Rules Will Be Revisited

On Monday, Indiewire published an open letter penned by "Circumstance" producer Karin Chien condemning the Producers Guild of America for labeling her film a "foreign film" and making it ineligible for their awards.

"Circumstance" was financed primarily in the U.S. and competed in the U.S. section of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival (where it won the Audience Award). However, it was also shot in the Farsi language and, according to PGA rules, only English-language films qualify for awards consideration.

In their response, the PGA says that they plan to revisit the rules, but note that "we are too advanced into our awards process this year to make changes for our 2012 honors."

Producers Guild of America response to Karin Chien's open letter:

We appreciate the passion and commitment behind responses such as Karin Chien’s, who has every reason to be proud of her work and the acclaim her film is receiving.

Unfortunately, the Producers Guild has not recognized foreign language films as eligible for its awards because of the unique position the Guild holds with regard to producing credits and producer award eligibility. Unlike other Guilds’ honors, the Producers Guild Awards require an exhaustive analysis of the circumstances of the production and the various creative and logistical contributions of the films’ credited producers. Furthermore, such analysis must be performed in a compressed timeframe during the height of awards season.

Our awards eligibility process is a thorough one, requiring all eligible producers to have undertaken a majority of the producing functions on a given film. This determination cannot simply be handled via statements by the producers in question, but necessitates the confidential receipt of verified affidavits from department heads and other significant creative contributors to the film.

When we have attempted this process with foreign-language films in the past, we found that participants were unable to respond in a timely manner, in part because of the distances involved, and as significantly, because of language barriers.  (Our Guild does not maintain a translation service, nor do we possess the funds to engage one.) The Producers Guild has staked its reputation on the integrity of its process for determining which credited producers performed a majority of the work on their films. If the Guild cannot make that determination with confidence and confidentiality, it cannot rightly honor a film or its producers.

In short, circumstances have conspired to make the present difficulties surrounding the determination of award eligibility for foreign language films more than problematic. That said, we will be revisiting this rule with the help of our Awards chairs, our International Committee and our Independent Film Producers Committee. We are too advanced into our awards process this year to make changes for our 2012 honors. However, if after our reassessment and analysis, we can find a way to adjust our process so as to make feasible the extensive and confidential research required, we will certainly consider non-English language films for our awards in the future.

8 Comments

  • Leighton C Peterson | December 20, 2011 10:25 AMReply

    These absurd rules would mean that films shot in Native American languages would not be eligible. I would love to see the PGA lawyers argue that Navajo or Inupiaq speakers or films are somehow "foreign." This would be even more absurd than the lawyers arguing that Spanish is somehow a "foreign" language, which I'm sure they would try despite the historical inaccuracy of the premise.

  • Karin Chien | December 19, 2011 10:27 AMReply

    Jack - thank you for your support & the offer. I think a public event/dialogue sounds like a great idea.

    Jay - Your starting question made me wonder if this letter is for real. How can we not take this as farce/satire? Beneath the obfuscating legalese, this letter essentially states the Producers Guild, a group of 4700 film producers, cannot figure out how to communicate with overseas crew.

  • Jay Van Hoy | December 16, 2011 12:01 PMReply

    How seriously are we supposed to take this response from the PGA?

    How can we ignore the obvious contradiction that renders this entire statement by the PGA as arbitrary at best: because the actors *do not* speak English in a foreign language film, the crew *cannot* speak English. And secondly, I guess, the PGA blames the USPS? What? Did a producer actually write sign off on this?

    Yes, the year is 2011.

    I'm a producer and I work consistently overseas. I know firsthand how rare it is that any department head cannot speak English. Beyond that, I know that the contemporary film industry (independent or no) is actually global, and this includes the stories that Americans want to tell.

    We hire foreign-based crew for American productions all the time, whether or not the script is English or the film is set in the US. On BEGINNERS (shot in LA ad NY) our DP Kasper Tuxen is Danish as is our editor Olivier Bugge Coutté. For KEEP THE LIGHTS ON (shot in NY), our DP Thimios Bakatakis is Greek. On THE LONELIEST PLANET (shot in the Republic of Georgia), our most-excellent crew is from Germany or The Rep. of Georgia, even South America. For TREELESS MOUNTAIN (shot in Korea) our crew is American but the actors speak Korean. On HERE (shot in Armenia) our crew is British, American and Armenian. For I'LL COME RUNNING (shot in Denmark and Texas) our crew is Danish and American. In all of these films, directed by American directors, the storytelling and the craft were enriched by the contributions of our non-native English speaking foreign crews.

    As a producer am I at risk for not being considered because I've hired foreign crew? Of course not.

    I really appreciate that this dialogue is coming to us as open letters. And I actually do take this statement from the PGA seriously. What does it mean? What are the implications not just for American producers but for American filmmakers and American films? I think it's pretty simple and likewise pretty disheartening.

    For those of us, American producers, that actually care about the honor that a PGA award/nomination provides, and who work to achieve this recognition in the industry to which we're dedicating ourselves, we should rule out the possibility of PGA recognition for our American films if the American audience has to read subtitles.

    In other words, if you have the choice, choose to make films in English. Why? The PGA simply does not have the capacity to honor your film if you don't.

    This is obviously a creative dictate and significant restriction for all of us; and to justify it as anything else is on its face erroneous.

    I'm thankful that Karin has shed light on this restriction, and to the PGA for attempting a response here. I honestly had no idea that it existed prior to CIRCUMSTANCE. It's really a shame that the producers for this film cannot even be considered for recognition by the PGA. And wow, how many others have there been?

  • John Kuo Wei Tchen | December 16, 2011 9:42 AMReply

    Bravo Karen!
    Let's explore dealing with these issues at a public event at NYU. You're doing the PGA a huge service by challenging them to rework outdated and isolationist policies. But will they respond to get ahead of the curve? Sadly most established organizations don't have an internal culture of responsiveness, even (especially) institutions like universities drag their feet instead of being in touch with changes already happening. Will new more relevant (decolonized thinking) organizations begin to form in their stead, in the vacuum they leave?

  • Ben Weiss | December 15, 2011 9:42 PMReply

    This is an underwhelming response from the PGA and overall a disappointing outcome. The language and distance excuses are laughably bad. The PGA needs to wake up and realize how independent films actually get financed and produced in this climate. How can you ignore a film because it has subtitles??? Unbelievable...

  • Brian Yang | December 15, 2011 7:07 PMReply

    Isn't this always the case, B. Newman? Thank you Karin for opening this dialogue. As always, your 2 cents are worth 2 jillion dollars.

  • Karin Chien | December 15, 2011 5:47 PMReply

    Thank you Producer's Guild for responding and offering to revisit this rule. I do want to point out that "distances involved" and "language barriers" don't apply to CIRCUMSTANCE. The department heads / creative contributors I provided as verification sources are American and speak English. I chose them specifically so you'd have an easier time obtaining affidavits.

    In general, you could require the affidavits be written in English and sent digitally. That would solve both problems?

    American producers are producing non-English language films more and more. Such as the producers behind "In The Land of Blood and Honey," who are receiving a PGA Award. Please don't disqualify the rest of us for doing so.

    Thank you again,
    Karin

  • Brian Newman | December 15, 2011 3:30 PMReply

    Wow, the PGA sure has time to hire lawyers to write meaningless gobbleddydook instead of having an actual answer. Very useful organization. Very.