Fighting to Keep Movies as Their Makers Intended : Arts: A nonprofit group that battles against film alteration will hold a three-day symposium starting Wednesday to debate this and related issues.


The Artists Rights Foundation wants you to know that the movies you’re watching on television and on video may not be the same movies your friends raved about after seeing them in theaters.

After films leave theaters, they may be compressed, cut and colorized before they make it to the small screen.

Such tinkerings have long stuck in the craws of directors, cinematographers and other artists who worked on the film, yet altered copies of their films carry no record of their objections.


That may be about to change. The nonprofit Artists Rights Foundation, which was incorporated in 1989 with support from the creative guilds, grew partly out of the debate in the ‘80s over colorization of classic black-and-white movies. The organization is now concerned with all types of film alteration, and it will hold the first International Artists Rights Symposium, on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Hotel Nikko, to debate this issue.

The symposium will include panels on the rights of filmmakers as artists, the effect emerging technologies will have on film alteration, and the consumer’s right to know about how films may have been changed. Panelists will include director Milos Forman and Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, as well as other film artists, studio executives and intellectual property experts.

The event will conclude Friday with a dinner hosted by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Anjelica Huston, at which Spielberg will present the recently created John Huston Award for Artists Rights to director Fred Zinnemann.

Under U.S. law, the copyright holder of a work generally is considered to be its legal author and has complete control over it. Those who hold a film’s copyright legally have the right to change it in almost any way they wish.

Awarding legal authorship of a film to its owner--in the case of a film, to the studio rather than its director, writer or producer--is “the same as saying the Pope painted the Sistine Chapel,” said Frank Pierson, a member of the foundation’s board of trustees and the president of the Writers Guild of America West. “We would like to see a situation where a film is recognized as the work of the creators of the film.”

The Artist Rights Foundation argues that alterations to films damages their artistic integrity; it is currently lobbying Congress to pass the Film Disclosure Act, which would require altered versions of films to carry labels clearly explaining how they were changed.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America, which represents the major studios, says this system of copyright ownership encourages investment in film by enabling copyright owners to make the changes necessary to put their films on the small screen, thereby helping to guarantee a return on a risky investment.


“If you inject into this another area of uncertainty, the money will be diminished,” said Jack Valenti, president of the MPAA. “The only way you can survive in the marketplace is to move briskly through videotape, pay-per-view, cable (and) television.”

The MPAA recently began a system to voluntarily label altered films, but the Artists Rights Foundation says those labels don’t offer enough information.

* The Artists Rights Foundation symposium will be held at the Hotel Nikko, 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. The symposium and the dinner are open to the public. Cost is $125 per day or $300 for all three days. Tickets to the John Huston Award dinner are $250 each. For reservations, call (310) 246-2012.