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By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Defending Mitchell Block – And Us – From Oscar Politics

I don’t want to be doing this. And I am going to keep it as simple as possible, because I think that whatever damage has been done to Mr. Block’s reputation was done at The Speed Of Internet, which is to say, not thought through nearly enough for anyone’s good.

The “controversy” is this. An independent distributor and marketer named Mitchell Block has been behind 71 Oscar nominations and 25 wins over the last couple of decades. He has been an adjunct professor at USC for over 30 years.

And, as best I can tell, he himself is nominated for an Oscar this year for the very first time. The film is called Poster Girl. It was directed by Sara Nesson, making her second film as a director.

But apparently, there was a problem with this amongst members of the Documentary Branch Executive Committee. According to Mr. Block, who I spoke to for the first time in my life today, he filled out the requisite paperwork to submit the film. He also acknowledged that there were questions raised about his status as a producer and that statements were submitted by the director, a producer who was consulting on the film, the editor, and himself about his involvement.

As he tells the story and says all the other statements confirm, Poster Girl was conceived by Block based on one of the stories in Nesson’s feature-length film, Iraq Paper Scissors. It was, according to Block, his idea to pull that story out and to make it a stand-alone short. He created the sizzle reel for the short, raised the money for the short, and brought in a TV network. “I was involved from Day One.”

And he is not distributing the film theatrically. Nesson retains all of the rights.

Cut to today.

The Documentary Branch had rejected Block’s credit as submitted. And then, they denied an appeal. On the second appeal, Michael Moore, joined by one of the two other Governors of the branch, asked The Academy Board of Governors to make a determination. The overall board gave Block the credit.

Today, Frieda Lee Mock, a former Documentary Branch Governor, decided to take the issue public, submitting her take on the issue as well as Moore’s letter to the Board of Governors to a popular blogger and journalist. (It is highly unlikely that Moore was aware that his letter was being distributed.) I wonder whether that breach of privacy, in and of itself, is cause for action to be taken against Ms. Mock by The Academy. It seems to be a rather petty display… all in the name of what she must consider a righteous cause.

In Moore’s letter, provided by Mock, he says unequivocally,“Mr. Block only came into this film when it was in post-production. He was NOT involved in any way with the conception, pre-production or production of this movie. We know the director is grateful for his help in the final stages of post-production and in distributing her film.”

Block today said, “I was involved with this film since it was an idea and for Michael Moore to say something like this… I don’t understand why he would say any of this.” Block repeatedly noted that the director is on record with The Academy saying that Block came on board after the shooting of the feature-length film, in which the footage for the short was filmed, but that the short was his idea and that he worked with the director on that from time of that initial idea onwards.

I am completely supportive of any Academy effort to stamp out credit proliferation, even though I think the 3-name rule, in this day and age, has created some unnecessary, unkind pain for some producers. But it seems to me that this is a failure to communicate. And unless there is a complaint from the director of the short – and Block said repeatedly that there is not – I don’t see how the aggressive behavior of Mock, in particular, and Moore, with more distance, is a positive development. I am basing this on the note that Frida had published, then removed from the web, today, and Moore’s statement, as provided by Mock. If there is a more persuasive argument, I can’t imagine why it wasn’t made.

In the meantime, a man was smeared… if even for just a few hours.

It is possible that I am now on the wrong side of this story. Maybe there is an uglier story not being told. But as in a court, I would rather support him wrongly based on what I know than to condemn him – a much stickier proposition – with nothing but gossip and underexplained opinions.

10 Responses to “Defending Mitchell Block – And Us – From Oscar Politics”

  1. yancyskancy says:

    I don’t know Block, but one of my old film professors did, and he used to show Block’s 1974 pseudo-documentary short “…No Lies” to his classes. It’s a great film, added to the National Film Registry in 2008. Surprised to see he has no other directing credits on imdb.

  2. Context? No links to the blogger’s story (if it’s out there)?

  3. David Poland says:

    The story has been removed from the web now, Kris.

  4. I see. A good thing, I imagine.

  5. Jung says:

    Agreed. Reader applauds the sound article.

  6. David Poland says:

    It’s a weird thing. Internal politics, so no one is really allowed to go on the record. And given how close Ms. Mock got to the flame, she and others are unlikely to want to even talk about it off the record at this point.

    Personally, I wish it were an open discussion. I don’t think that would hurt anyone and the issue of where the lines are in a situation like this could be freely and intelligently debated. Instead, the whole incident felt like someone trying to backdoor a fellow member of the branch with hyperbole and a little light sent them scuttling back to the darkness.

    If someone came to me and said, “Let’s make a short film about cinematography out of your DP/30 interviews this awards season,” and they organized a plan to produce and fund the short, would they not really be a producer because the footage was already shot? That seems to be the argument being made against Block, further complicated by a long history as a distributor, not a producer… further complicated by whispers that the films he distributed were too successful at getting nods in years past.

    And so it goes…

  7. You think this will hurt the film in the race? Because having seen all of them, I actually think it’s the one with the best shot to win. But that was before all of this.

  8. David Poland says:

    I hope not. I think that was the intent. But it’s mostly vanished from the web now, except for this piece. Hopefully, not even a ripple.

  9. The Pope says:

    David,
    Your analogy about DP/30 is perfect. A number of years ago, a film school graduate here in Ireland made an animated short (CG). Beginning, middle last, it was all his own work. A producer saw the film (on tape at the graduating exhibition) and offered to pay for it to be transferred to 35mm in return for producer credit. The young graduate accepted at the offer. The producer, because he knew about these things, entered it into the right festivals (i.e. Academy recognized), where they duly won and went on to secure a nomination. And I’m quite certain that with regard the docu/live action/animated short categories, that story is not unique.

  10. Docfilms says:

    Follows is a link to Nesson and Block being interviewed at the Academy by Michael Apted. It’s pretty clear from Ms. Nesson’s interview that Block did exactly what he said he did and produced POSTER GIRL.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEkcl4_CryE

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