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Rival Criticizes Oscar-Winning Documentary's Reenactments

March 29, 2005|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

The producer of an Academy Award-nominated documentary short is complaining that this year's Oscar-winning film in that category deceptively used reenactments, a charge that one of the winning filmmakers dismissed Monday as sour grapes.

In a letter sent to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the producer of "Sister Rose's Passion" argues that "Mighty Times: The Children's March" competed "unfairly, flouting ethical standards set forth by the academy."

"Sister Rose" producer Steve Kalafer maintains in the letter that "Mighty Times," the winning documentary about the civil rights movement, tried to "deceive" Oscar voters by not disclosing which portions of the film were reenacted.

Robert Hudson, who made "Mighty Times" with Bobby Houston, said in response to Kalafer's complaint: "I didn't win an Oscar for 'Rosa Parks,' " an earlier collaboration with Houston that was nominated in 2003. "And the pain you feel inside after losing can make anybody spin out of control."

The academy said it was looking into Kalafer's four-page complaint but declined to comment further. The academy's first rule for eligibility in the documentary categories expressly permits partial reenactments. "Mighty Times" contains interviews, archival footage and dramatized scenes of black children marching against and being attacked by segregationists.

In interviews and public appearances, Hudson and Houston have spoken candidly about their use of reenactments, saying the technique helps make their historical subjects relevant to younger audiences. In some "Mighty Times" sequences, the two filmmakers employed several hundred extras. The reenacted footage is then treated to appear to be archival.

Any number of nonfiction films have employed reenactments, including "The Thin Blue Line," "Everest" and "The Story of the Weeping Camel," a nominee for best documentary feature in this year's ceremony.

Kalafer, who did not return a telephone call seeking comment, says in his letter that "Mighty Times" should have alerted its viewers as to which portions were restaged. Dale Olson, a publicist for "Sister Rose's Passion" and an academy member, said in an interview that he believed that "Mighty Times" was "an intentional deception to the academy."

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