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As the pandemic raged and in-person screenings practically disappeared, the Academy’s Screening Room has found an appreciative audience.
Many film distributors are able to send links to their films to various guilds, media members and voters; the Academy has stepped in with its screening room, offering voters those films plus other contenders who can’t afford to do that.
With the Acad’s growing international membership, the website has been a boon, especially to those who submitted shorts, documentaries and international films.
The website may also have helped international films such as “Parallel Mothers,” “The Worst Person in the World” and “Drive My Car” earn noms in other categories, such as original screenplay for “Worst” and three others for “Drive” (best picture, screenplay and director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi).
Although there have been growing pains since its inception in 2015, the streaming room has found an appreciative audience among the 9,573 Oscar voters.
“Our membership, especially internationally, was continuing to grow,” says Tom Oyer, senior VP of member relations and awards for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “We have a lot of members who are not based in Los Angeles; they live all over the U.S. or around the world. We saw the need to find an easier way for all of those members to participate.”
The Academy Screening Room website has since expanded to platforms such as Roku, Apple TV and iOS, filling in the gap for films that would otherwise have been sent as DVDs or screened in person. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, it became a lifeline.
“We were very, very lucky that we had this built already,” Oyer says. “We could then make sure that all the films were available to all the members worldwide.”
Still, there’s room for improvement. Academy chief information officer Bev Kite says up to six languages can be included as closed captions. The Academy also hopes to expand the screening room to other platforms such as Amazon Fire TV.
The Academy received ballots this year from members across 82 countries, a record for the organization. The Screening Room has been a big part of that ongoing international growth, one that Oyer says has been appreciated by many members.
“To be able to have all our members worldwide participate in [the international features] category has been so crucial and so welcome. It was something that was definitely desired from those members for many years, and I’m really glad that now we have it available to everybody.”