EXCLUSIVE: Director Kelly Reichardt’s well-reviewed indie First Cow becomes the first physical 2020 DVD screener sent to all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and now holds that singular distinction that I chronicle every year here on Deadline. Distributor A24 had the Academy put them all in the mail Monday to Oscar voters, even though nominations don’t come out until mid-March and the Oscar show itself isn’t scheduled until April 25, the latest date since it started broadcasting on television.
Of course, A24 is doing this to gain traction, and probably garner some added publicity around the VOD launch today, after first offering the film for electronic sell-through July 10. The coronavirus pandemic has been wreaking havoc throughout the motion picture industry, the reason the Motion Picture Academy has delayed the Oscar show until late April and extended eligibility through the end of February 2021.
Hoping not to get lost in the crowd, A24 decided to boldly go where no distributor has yet gone this year, and send out the DVD ultra early. With everyone still largely stuck at home and a possible new shutdown on the horizon for Los Angeles, it is probably a pretty good idea if you want to get sampling from the group that counts the most. At this point the Oscar voters are the only awards organization getting it, but the distributor tells me it plans to send to others eventually.
First Cow, which premiered at the 2019 Telluride Film Festival (the 2020 edition of the fest was just officially canceled last week), opened theatrically March 6 and garnered Reichardt her strongest debut weekend — but unfortunately shortly afterwards it became a victim of the shutdown of movie theaters that is still going on. Initially, A24 had hoped to reopen the film theatrically, but with no end in sight to the shutdown it decided to go the VOD route instead.
Although First Cow is the first physical screener, the Academy’s own online screening platform has been up and running, as I reported a few weeks ago, with several titles aiming for early attention from voters including movies from Netflix, Universal, Focus Features, Bleecker Street and IFC Films and more currently available to members for download. AMPAS has announced the 93rd Academy Awards season will be the final year for DVD screeners as they switch over entirely to its own platform exclusively devoted to downloads beginning with the 94th Oscars.
First Cow, currently ranked 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, deals with the relationship between a skilled cook and a Chinese immigrant as they head west to early 19th century Oregon and team up in business together. John Magaro, Orion Lee and Alia Shawkat star. You can bet it will be the first of many screeners sent to AMPAS members, but the bigger question remains just how many as release schedules for many expected contenders remain in serious flux due to the pandemic.