Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: In an unprecedented move this late in Oscar season, two-time Academy Award winning actress and director Jodie Foster, with the help of her film’s distributor Summit Entertainment, is sending DVD screeners of The Beaver (the Mel Gibson film she directed and co-starred in) to the entire membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Summit tells me they expect to start shipping Monday so the Academy  members should have this in their mailboxes by Wednesday.

That’s right. The Beaver. It’s NOT nominated for a single Oscar — or any other award for that matter. It opened and closed quickly last May in the wake of  Gibson’s latest scandal and grossed just under $1 million in its brief, unsuccessful U.S. run. Although reviews were mixed it did receive a 69% fresh rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes and, despite his personal woes, Gibson got some of the best personal notices of his career. But when awards season arrived Summit nixed a campaign and did not send out screeners to the Academy as they did for two other movies, 50/50 and A Better Life (the first screener sent to Academy members on September 7).

The fact that there were no screeners and no Oscar nominations has not deterred Foster who feels strongly about her movie and wants it to be seen by her peers. In a letter that will accompany the DVD (read the letter here), Foster begins by writing: “It is unusual to get a screener after the Oscar nominations have been announced, as the final chapter of award season is nearing, when nearly all of this year’s movies have been viewed and assessed. That is because this screener of The Beaver is not ‘For Your Consideration’. It is simply for your enjoyment.” Later she says “The Beaver is an unusual film, to say the least, with a voice and tone unlike any other. Mel Gibson’s performance is undeniably deep and raw. I am so proud of the work we did together.”

The DVD that will be sent to Oscar voters is the commercial consumer version, usually forbidden by Academy rules. Distributors must make special screeners and adhere to strict, no frills packaging. The Academy rules also don’t allow a letter to be sent as Foster is doing. In this case Summit got special permission from the Academy in order to send it out in this form. Because it has no nominations, and write-in votes haven’t been permitted in decades, what’s the harm?

Sure Foster wishes the film had been sent earlier to really be considered but in a phone conversation this morning she told me it wasn’t her decision. It is now and she is personally paying for all the expense of the mailing. ”I am not the distributor. That’s their decision. It’s a pretty simple desire on my part. You work incredibly hard on a movie. I’ve made a lot of movies and I don’t think in the last twenty years since they’ve had the screener process, even when they had videos, I don’t think I’ve had a movie that didn’t come out on the screener, even the ones that really honestly should not have been for any consideration,” she laughed.

So why do this now? “I think it’s become at the end of the year it’s the way people see the films, view the films in the independent world as well as the mainstream world that they might not have gotten to any other way. It’s increasingly the way people see the films. Whether we like it or not it’s the way the film community really keeps up. And we had a bit of a compromised theatrical release, and Blockbuster is out of business,” she says. She talked to Gibson yesterday and said he’s pleased she’s doing this. “I think Mel is happy as am I that this is an opportunity for just the film to be viewed and really for Mel not to be talked about, except that he gave a wonderful performance that I am incredibly grateful for. I didn’t get that opportunity when it was released.”

She has no animosity toward Summit for not including the film in their Oscar campaign plans. “It’s their purview. I have to say I do love these guys and I have had a great experience with them, and if anything I have an even fonder feeling for them because we went through World War II together. We were in the trenches together and they were really amazing,” she said.

Foster wasn’t even put off at the Golden Globes (where she was a nominee for Best Actress — Musical or Comedy for Carnage) when host Ricky Gervais made her film the butt of one of his jokes. Talking about NBC’s guidelines for his monologue he said, “I musn’t mention Mel Gibson again…even Jodie Foster’s Beaver. I haven’t seen it myself. I’ve spoken to a lot of guys here. They haven’t seen it either. That doesn’t mean it’s not any good,”he said as cameras caught Foster in the audience laughing harder than anyone.

“It (the Globes) was fun. We had a great time. Honestly I made a movie called ‘The Beaver’. Do you really think there isn’t a joke about it?” she says. But clearly she is happy her peers will get a chance to judge the movie on its own terms this Oscar season, even if it isn’t part of the Oscar conversation.

“I didn’t become an actor or director to make a hundred gazillion dollars. I make movies because it is my art form. It’s the thing that I love and how I express myself. And to not be seen by the people you talk to and work with that are part of that experience is really sad. I have to say I discovered a lot of interesting movies this year that I am so glad I got to see that may not be talked about in the Oscars, may not have any consideration in the Oscars, didn’t get nominations but were really enormous experiences for me and I am so glad I got that (DVD) box and was able to see them, films like We Need To Talk About Kevin, Martha Marcy May Marlene, In The Land of Blood and Honey. I would not have seen them any other way,” she says.

And now she’s hoping her peers will discover her lost film the same way. Get ready Academy, The Beaver is about to become your final screener of the season.

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