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Academy Reverses Decision to Drop Awards for Shorts

January 27, 1994|TERRY PRISTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Closing the door on a controversy that erupted more than a year ago, leaders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have decided to continue awarding Oscars for short live-action films and short documentaries.

The Academy's Board of Governors voted unanimously in favor of both categories late Tuesday night after a brief discussion. The vote reversed a November, 1992, decision to drop shorts, made on the grounds that these films "have long since ceased to reflect the realities of theatrical motion picture exhibition."

Further study of the matter, however, persuaded the board that although films 30 minutes or shorter are rarely seen in theaters, "they are staging a resurgence in new non-traditional venues," Academy President Arthur Hiller said in a prepared statement. In addition to being screened at theme parks and major expositions, short films are also being shown in special theaters devoted to formats such as IMAX, Cinetropolis and Showscan.

"The board clearly felt that all of these sites fall within the Academy's 'theatrical film' province," Hiller said.

Tuesday's vote came in response to an 88-page report prepared by Heather Lindquist, a professional researcher hired by the Academy in response to the outcry last year against the board's original vote. Among those protesting the decision to eliminate the two categories were some of the industry's biggest luminaries, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas among them. Supporters said short films deserved recognition as a vital cinematic form, one that often serves as a laboratory for experimenting with new techniques.

Caught off-guard by the fervor over short films, the board, in what was widely interpreted as a face-saving move, voted a month later to suspend its decision for another year while the matter was researched. A seven-member board committee recommended retaining the awards based on the data Lindquist collected over a five-month period.

Board member Saul Bass, a 1968 Oscar winner for his short documentary "Why Man Creates," and a leader in the fight in favor of the short forms, said he was proud of the board's willingness to admit its error. "It is to the credit of the board that, having made a decision that was flawed, it had the maturity and objectivity to re-examine it and rectify it," he said.

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