Critics Axe '03 Awards After Screener Ban

Monday, October 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Los Angeles Film Critics Association has canceled its 2003 awards to protest an industry ban on sending special DVDs and videos to award voters.

The association voted Saturday not to hand out the awards, which can boost interest in a film and predict its Oscar chances. Members said they would consider resuming the awards if the studios again hand out videos and DVDs of new films.

The major studios and their trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, agreed in September to stop sending ``screener'' copies to the 5,600 Academy Awards voters and other groups that hand out awards, including the Los Angeles Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics.

The studios hoped to prevent piracy, but the decision angered supporters of smaller movies who say voters may miss independent pictures if they have to see them at screenings in theaters. Opponents of the ban say screener distribution has led to several Academy Awards for smaller films, include best actress wins for Halle Berry in 2001's ``Monster's Ball'' and Hilary Swank in 1999's ``Boys Don't Cry.''

Ella Taylor, a critic for the LA Weekly, suggested the cancellation and said she hoped other critics groups also would withhold awards. She said there were many films released toward the end of the year, and that voters may not be able to see them all without screeners.

``Unless they rescind the ban we just don't feel that we can really do our work properly,'' she said.

Jean Oppenheimer, the president of the association, said many critics see films in theaters but use screener copies to view films again as they decide the best pictures of the year.

``This really helps inform us better,'' said Oppenheimer, who reviews films for New Times, National Public Radio and other outlets.

MPAA officials did not immediately return calls for comment Sunday.