David Lynch can leave his cow at home

This week the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences declared new regulations on the famously suspect practices often involved in Oscar campaigning.

A press release this week stated that “prior to the nominations’ announcement (January 24, 2012), there are no restrictions on screening events to which Academy members may be invited” but that “After the nominations have been announced, Academy members may continue to be invited to screenings that have filmmaker participation elements but receptions are not permitted.”

Reaction to the news is likely to be mixed amongst filmmakers.  Actors and directors on the fringes of Hollywood have expressed exasperation in the past about the power big studios are able to exercise in mounting high-profile awards campaigns. David Lynch, the Mulholland Drive director, responded to such studio power in 2006 by sitting on a Los Angeles street corner in a folding chair, accompanied by a cow. This was his low budget attempt to raise awareness amongst Academy voters of Laura Dern. She didn’t end up receiving a Best Actress nomination for her role in his film Inland Empire, but his stand against people like the Weinstein’s who seem to get Oscar nods through their contacts is no less valid.

Whilst Lynch may be overjoyed at the news, many studio heads won’t be. The fierce campaigning of last winter was viewed as excessive by Academy President Tom Sherak who hopes that ‘these regulations play an important role in protecting the integrity of the Academy awards process and the distinction of the Oscar’.

The ramifications of the new parameters are hard to predict. Events such as the DVD release of The Social Network, at which the entire movie’s cast appeared to wine and dine Academy members, should no longer occur. However, the step to outlaw ‘any events featuring food or drink’ is more likely to harm the L.A. catering industry than a film’s awards chances. Veteran campaigners claim that studios are imaginative enough to find ways around the guidelines. Gregg Kilday, analysing the new rules in The Hollywood Reporter, agreed saying the restrictions ‘sound tough’ but that ‘there are still enough loopholes to keep everybody happy’.

Whether the Academy’s new stipulations level the playing field remains to be seen. Hopefully it will provide British, Independent and International Cinema with a better chance at the industry’s biggest prize. The strange decision that “no one individual from the film can participate in more than two panel discussions” could provide an advantage to films like Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy as it has such a large, high profile cast, each member of which can appear twice.

The Academy’s statement comes amid a sea of changes. Executive Director Bruce Davis has recently retired after 30 years and the Best Film category has also undergone a significant alteration.

Next year’s Oscars will take place on 26 February 2012. Eddie Murphy is confirmed as host. Daisy is not invited.

– Sam Poppleton