The 26th annual Academy Screenings are underway in Aspen. Among the award season contenders featured as part of Aspen Film’s series are films whose actors and producers have recently been accused of workplace sexual harassment. Aspen audiences and the nonprofit shared perspectives on how the industry is handling accusations in light of the upcoming Academy and Golden Globe awards.
The Wheeler Opera House bar Lobby was full of eager filmgoers chatting over cocktails. There’s talk of who’s going to take home the film industry’s biggest prize, but also of who deserves it.
“Just because somebody does a bad thing doesn’t mean that they also can’t contribute to society and do a great thing,” said one person at the opening reception.
“I mean, if it was really bad, I would probably just hate everything about them,” said another.
“There’s a grey, I mean life is not black and white, it’s grey,” a third person added.
This year’s Academy Screenings lineup has 29 features, including narrative, documentary and foreign films that have performed favorably in the festival circuit. Susan Wrubel is Aspen Film’s new executive director. She said this year’s Academy Screenings are giving Aspen audiences more than just the films vying for “Best Actor” and “Best Picture” awards.
“We’ve really sort of peaked under the hood to try and find some other interesting bests that people may not normally think about on their own,” said Wrubel.
Jane Schoettle is director of programming this season with Academy Screenings. Her intention was to give Aspen audiences a dose of films that will provoke discussion around global issues, like race, poverty, addiction and war, as well as internal topics that have hit closer to home.
“These are all really entertaining films, but they have some gritty deep issues that sort of underlie them or that are the sidewalk on which they stand,” said Schoettle. “My dream is that people leave the cinema and they talk all the way to the car about the movie.”
In October, a New York Times investigation revealed sexual harassment allegations against Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein. Roughly 70 women have now made allegations him, and a wave of accusations against dozens of actors, executive producers and media personalities have followed suit. Steve Shifman is CEO of the Cincinnati-based company Michaelman. He said the conversation around sexual harassment is both frightening and frustrating.
"I'm encouraged that women are finally feeling comfortable to bring these issues to public,” said Shifman.”
Not everyone agrees. Kallen Von Renkel lives and sells art in Aspen. She’s worried about the backlash.
“I think it’s been very permissible in our culture sometimes for a man to give a woman a pat on the fanny or whatever” she said. “It’s been somewhat acceptable. So now for people to lose their job over something like that I think is inappropriate. So I don’t think we should conflate the two.”
Aspen Film’s Academy Screenings series includes films where well-known actors and producers have been publicly accused in recent weeks. Susan Wrubel, a film industry exec herself, said in her experience the landscape didn’t used to give women permission to speak up.
“There were things that one turned a blind eye to, or that one learned very early on in one’s career: 'Oh right, I don’t ever want to go to a meeting alone again. Oh, there’s the unwanted touch. Oh, there’s the weird brushing up against,' and they were things that you kind of looked at as casualties of the career," she said. "I feel like this generation of women was raised with a little bit more girl power than we were given growing up, and they just said no more.”
Schoettle revealed at a young age she was told she needed to show skin in order to be successful in this business. She called this behavior a power play common for executives to make. She admitted to feeling a little defensive when she first read the headlines regarding her industry.
“Because it’s insidious. There isn’t a woman on Earth that has not been on the receiving end of this,” she said. “But film, also being a business filled with extremes, is a business that is very much about power … the fact that we’re even having this conversation is, I never thought that I would ever see it in my lifetime, and I couldn’t be happier or more thrilled or slightly regretful. I have a big basket of emotions around it, but I do not want it to stop.”
The films being showcased through Academy Screenings all have the potential to take home top awards. This season, Schoettle believes diversity will be reflected in these decisions.
“Given a lot of the things that have happened socially/politically in the last six months, I predict that in a lot of the award categories you're going to see possibly women be awarded or certainly considered or nominated more than they might have been in the past,” said Schoettle.
Which bears the question: If an artist does something bad, should it impact the way we perceive the artist’s body of work? Perhaps this academy season, this series of films won’t only offer an escape through cinematic storytelling but the launch pad for communication and change.
For the full list of films being screened, visit aspenfilm.org.