Academy Announces New Rule Changes At Membership Meeting; All Members Can Now Vote On Foreign Language Films

The Academy announced rule changes that will allow  all  members for the first time to vote in all 24 categories including Foreign Language and Documentary Shorts, either via theatrical screenings or DVD.  Previously members had to attend special screenings for those two categories. The Academy used the occasion of their membership meeting today to announce the changes. In years past Academy members had to prove attendance to vote in Live Action and Animated shorts as well as Documentary Feature but that was changed last year. Now, as President Hawk Koch just announced at the meeting, all members will have an opportunity to participate in the final vote in Foreign Language and Doc Shorts as well and will be sent DVDs in order to facilitate that. Nomination processes will not change though.

The big news is for Foreign Language films and it could be controversial.  When I proposed this as a possible rule change to one of the major distributors of Foreign Films in February, Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Tom Bernard told me he was adamantly opposed and told me the Foreign Language voting process should only be open to those members who are really passionately involved, arguing that it is a true specialty area that shouldn’t be tampered with.  “I still think it’s important that the process not be frivolous. I still think you need to make sure the people who are going to do this are people that are acclimated to these type of films, and watch these type of films,” he said.

Foreign Language films do not have their own branch or peer group in the Academy and the contest is conducted on a volunteer basis with members signing up to view the entries and then giving them point totals leading eventually to the final five nominees (the larger volunteer committee selects six finalists while a smaller executive committee selects an additional three – the final five are selected from that). Then only members who could prove they had seen all five nominees in a theatre could actually vote. That now has changed and will likely favor  more popular contenders, especially with the DVD aspect. SPC’s Amour was the most recent winner.  Koch said the change was made in order to expand members’ participation in all aspects of the Academy’s activities including the Oscar voting. He also revealed the past season had a “record 90% voter turnout”, numbers not usually supplied by the tight-lipped Academy, especially regarding voter turnout. Of course last year was the first for the controversial electronic voting process.

This announcement was made  at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences this morning. Members are gathering today for an unprecedented town hall-like membership meeting based at the Beverly Hills headquarters of the Academy but satellited out to East Coast members attending at Lighthouse International in New York City and Bay Area members at Pixar Studios in Emeryville, Ca. In addition to the aforementioned news topics planned for discussion are the Acad’s new museum, e-voting, programming, new collections and how the organization will deal with new technology. Another goal organizers stated was as a networking opportunity at the preceding brunch/lunch and “to increase communication with our membership”.

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