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Alfonso Cuarón Sounds Off on ‘Vicious’ and ‘Ridiculous’ Oscar Season Campaigning

"Roma" is the frontrunner to win Cuarón his second Oscar for Best Director.

Alfonso Cuaron attends the 72nd annual British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Britain, 10 February 2019. The ceremony is hosted by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).Arrivals - 2019 EE British Academy Film Awards, London, United Kingdom - 10 Feb 2019

Alfonso Cuaron

NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

On the most recent ScreenTalk podcast, IndieWire executive editor Eric Kohn and editor at large Anne Thompson discussed how this year’s awards season has been marked by overwhelming negativity when it comes to Oscar campaigns. Variety awards editor Kristopher Tapley said as much earlier this year in a report titled “Inside an Oscar Season of Anger,” in which it became clear nearly every contender has been met with some kind of controversy or backlash. For Alfonso Cuarón, whose “Roma” is nominated for 10 Oscars, watching the bad blood grow has been a downside to what should be a celebratory season.

“It’s just so ridiculous,” Cuarón recently told Deadline. “It’s a concerning thing, because I think it’s getting more intense all the time. The awards season should be a celebration. I was up in Santa Barbara last weekend on a panel with Pawel Pawlikowski, Spike Lee, Adam McKay, and Yorgos Lanthimos, and we’re celebrating, having a nice time, and loving each other’s films. We were happy for one another. I think all filmmakers — and I’m talking actors, producers, directors and writers — are so supportive of other filmmakers, and celebrate other filmmakers. But then there are some in this industry of awards season — which has its own life and has become its own entity — that operate in a different way than how filmmakers operate. It turns this season into something very competitive.”

Cuarón said most filmmakers want to celebrate their films performing well with the Academy and with audiences and are not interested in tearing down the chances of fellow nominees. “This industry has turned everything into something a bit more vicious,” the director said. “The sad thing is it has become almost like a projection of how political campaigns are nowadays. Rather than politicians showing a vision, it’s about throwing dirt to the opponent. So rather than strengthening the values — and I’m not talking moral values, but the artistic merits of a film and the influence it may be having — it’s about trying to push the others down. I find that very sad. And I hope there’s a way — though I’m not sure there is — that it can be regulated by the Academy. I don’t know how.”

Oscar season officially begins with the Venice Film Festival in late August, although awards contenders begin unspooling as early as Sundance in January and the Cannes Film Festival in May. Cuarón attributes the length of the season as one of the factors that yields dirty campaigning.

“It’s six months long, in which the first part, everybody is discovering the films and there’s a surprise factor every time. In that moment, everything is normal,” Cuarón said. “People like some films, they don’t like other films, and that is absolutely fine. But from there it starts turning into a completely different thing…It’s sad, because it should be about the celebration at this point. It’s discouraging; it’s really discouraging. It used to be that an award was something that was such a great honor for a filmmaker. The problem is that now the agenda is more important for the companies involved. They have more at stake than anybody else, and that is not cool. It’s not great.”

Cuarón’s “Roma” is the frontrunner to win Best Picture and Best Director, among other Oscars. The film is already the first Netflix release to be nominated in these categories, which has been a point of contention for some in the industry. The film is now streaming globally on Netflix. The 91st Academy Awards take place Sunday, February 24.

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