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'Bloody Sunday' may be ineligible for Oscar

November 15, 2002|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

"Bloody Sunday," a searing documentary-style drama re-creating events surrounding a 1972 civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, that left 13 civilian protesters dead at the hands of British troops, could be ruled ineligible for Oscar consideration this year because the movie has aired on Irish and British television.

Paramount Classics, the film's U.S. distributor, sent a letter this week to Frank Pierson, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, asking that the organization bend its rules to allow "Bloody Sunday" to compete for the Academy Awards. The letter said it would be "an incredible injustice" to the movie and director Paul Greengrass should the academy declare the film ineligible.

"It would be odd for one of the best-reviewed films of the year not to be considered, not to have the possibility to be nominated," producer Mark Redhead said Thursday via telephone from London.

Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director, tersely declined to comment on the merits of the appeal. "We generally try to avoid helping out on a picture's publicity campaign. So, we will have no comment on this or any other waiver request" until the board takes action.

Davis said the request for a waiver will be referred to the academy rules committee, which will then forward its recommendation to the board of governors, which meets Dec. 10. A decision could be made then.

David Dinerstein and Ruth Vitale, the co-presidents of Paramount Classics, say the movie has a strong shot in three Oscar categories: best picture, Greengrass for best director, and James Nesbitt for best actor in a leading role. The film shared the top award for best picture at this year's Berlin Film Festival and was co-winner of the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Redhead said the filmmakers always considered the film a theatrical release, but the 30th anniversary of the Derry march earlier this year became an enormous event in the United Kingdom and Ireland and they thought their film deserved a wider showing.

"We thought it was constructive to get it before an audience in one collective mass viewing -- not only in the United Kingdom, but in Ireland. It attracted an enormous audience."

The film debuted in London theaters on Jan. 20 -- 10 days before the 30-year anniversary of the march. That same night, the picture aired throughout Britain and Ireland on national television -- the only airing of the film on TV to date. The film opened in the U.S. on Oct. 4 and is playing on 52 screens. As of Tuesday, it had grossed $570,000 in North America.

Academy rules state that a picture first theatrically exhibited outside the U.S. prior to the Los Angeles qualifying run "may not be exhibited publicly in any other medium for a six-month period following the commencement of its initial theatrical engagement."

In their letter to Pierson, the producers and studio executives acknowledge that academy rules seem to eliminate "Bloody Sunday" from Oscar consideration.

"Yet, is this rule faithful to the spirit of the academy?" the letter asks. "Has it always been honored in academy history?"

The letter cites the Academy Awards of March 27, 1957, when Sir Laurence Olivier was up for best actor in the British film "Richard III." Just over a year earlier, on March 11, 1956, the film "Richard III" aired on NBC.

"Now, 'Richard III' was an exceptional case," the letter states. "Its network airing was a national event -- a milestone in the establishment of color television. 'Richard III' was a film that appeared simultaneously on the small screen.... We feel the same should also be the case now. 'Bloody Sunday' is also an exceptional film."

The letter was signed by Dinerstein, Vitale, Redhead and executive producers Jim Sheridan, Pippa Cross and Tristan Whalley.

As for the Olivier comparison, the academy's Davis replied: "The board will not feel bound by the rules that existed in 1957. This whole television problem hadn't surfaced at that time. It wasn't in the rules."

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