The makers of "Hoop Dreams" aren't the only ones crying foul about getting shut out of the Oscars.
Several foreign journalists who have reported on many past Academy Awards have been denied the kind of access they'd become accustomed to. Not only that, they charge that the motion picture academy staff has been outright rude and cavalierly ignorant.
Academy officials, in turn, counter that the offended journalists are spoiled by past treatment and can't accept that times--and Oscar priorities--have changed. A shift in academy staff and a move of the awards telecast from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the Shrine Auditorium have led to a re-evaluation of the process for issuing credentials and has also put a squeeze on the number of spots allocated, especially for TV crews.
Most upset are representatives of Italian and Taiwanese outlets. For each, this year's ceremony is of special importance, as their countries are represented by a lifetime achievement award (being presented to Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni) and a best foreign film nomination (for Taiwan's "Eat Drink Man Woman").
"I don't want to be a bitchy person, but this has been very unprofessional," says Silvia Bizio, who has covered the Oscars for 13 years as the West Coast correspondent to Italy's La Repubblica newspaper, that country's largest daily. "My impression was that, at least for foreigners, the accreditation process was carried out by people who don't know who we are."
She was eventually granted a spot in the backstage press tent to cover the proceedings for her paper, but only after a war of words with academy officials, she says. However, she also has the duty of arranging for television coverage by Italian network Canale 5, which had hoped to send a full crew. But she was granted a pass only for anchorwoman Anna Praderio and nothing else.
"They won't give us a credential for a camera," she says. "That's absurd! We were directed to Reuters for footage, but they'll only be asking generic questions."
Charlyne Tsou, entertainment editor and reporter for the L.A.-based cable TV Chinese Communications Channel and the Taiwanese satellite station CTS, was denied any credential. "I've never had trouble in the past, but I've been rejected this time," she says. "If no Taiwanese or Chinese film was nominated, it wouldn't mean so much. But the government and the film company are sending over a large delegation."
But don't fret for the Italian and Taiwanese fans, says John Pavlik, the academy's director of communications. Two of Italy's largest TV networks, Telepui and RAI, will have accredited camera crews on the scene, and two Taiwanese channels have also been granted passes.
Pavlik says that with the exit last year of longtime academy press coordinator Bob Werden and the arrival of a new staff, a long hard look was taken at who should be granted accreditation. More than 2,500 applicants applied for 600 passes; at the Shrine there are just 65 spots for television cameras and 62 TV reporters, fewer than in previous years at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Academy television coordinator Lindajo Loftus explained that with foreign TV coverage, the first priority goes to "rights holders," outlets that contract directly with ABC, the U.S. network that owns broadcast rights to the ceremony. After that, the academy staff evaluates the needs individually.
In Italy's case, Telepui is the rights holder, and RAI was also granted access. Canale 5 was deemed superfluous.
In Taiwan, two Taipei-based outlets were determined to serve the market better than Tsou's L.A.-based service.
But the charges of rudeness? Even one foreign journalist who is now satisfied with the arrangements for his television network says that the initial process was "terrible . . . the most horrible experience I've ever hand."
Says Pavlik, who has worked with the Oscars for 28 years, "Some of these folks can be quite persistent, and apparently have never heard of the word no . So I can understand that they would think someone who said 'no' to them was rude."