HFPA Plan To Send Members On Pricey Trip To Venice Film Festival Scuttled By Covid Restrictions

EXCLUSIVE: A deep-pocketed effort to send members of the addled and reform-promising Hollywood Foreign Press Association to the Venice Film Festival this year has been kiboshed due to a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Expected to cost tens of thousands of dollars out of diminishing HFPA coffers, the Golden Globes group’s decision to not fork out travel for what one insider called “a vacation by any other name” was made in the past 24 hours, I’ve learned. Unlikely to change, the verdict comes as voting results on further bylaw and board changes by the fractured HFPA are expected to be made public today. (UPDATE: The bylaws passed; read the story here.)

Before events seemingly shut down the trips, the HFPA was intent on paying up to $5,000 apiece for around at least a dozen members accredited at the September 1-11 festival to attend screenings and have sit-downs with participants.

Providing some cover for the HFPA, the plan was actually signed off on by lawyers Ropes & Gray. The high-profile firm was brought on board not long after the fiasco of this year’s Golden Globes by an unsteady HFPA to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the group and its widely questioned practices and policies, or lack thereof. That review became all the more vital as the $60 million-a-year paying NBC canceled the 2022 Golden Globes in May and a civil war within the HFPA soon erupted.

Still, with the HFPA instituting some new polices last month against members accepting free travel and accommodation from studios and distributors, and many of the minor outlets for which most of the 84-strong group write are in no position to pay for such trips, and the nonprofit’s purse was seen as the only option by leadership.

“To even consider this shows that so many at the top of the HFPA still don’t get it,” said a member of the group about the possible Venice trips. “This just reinforces the impression that we’re looking for handouts, not pursuing reform or even serious journalism.”

The threat of the Delta variant at the 78th Venice Film Festival was actually raised in a HFPA board meeting last week even before the decision not to pay for the trip to Italy was made. Assessing rising Covid cases, the board chose not to hold the traditional HFPA talent shindig at the the Floating City gathering because of the risks.

Additionally, with travel restrictions in Italy and elsewhere shifting almost daily, the five-day quarantine some members currently based outside the U.S. would face kneecapped the viability of attending the festival; the costs of the requirement were not a fee the organization was willing to absorb. There’s also the uncertainty that even if some members did go to Venice, they might not be able to get home easily as the pandemic enters a new stage.

Of course, regardless of past practices attending Venice and similar festivals, the optics are not good for the HFPA by any stretch. “This is stealing from Peter to give to Paul,” one publicist told me of the HFPA footing the bill for its own members.

Already being boycotted by many of Hollywood’s top flacks and talent and with the future of the once influential Globes unknown, the HFPA also lacked a raison d’être to be at festivals like Venice for screenings of possible Oscar contenders.

It’s a reality not lost on local markets, it seems. The continuing backlash to revelations earlier this year that the much-mocked international group lacked a single Black member and repeatedly indulged governance and personal misconduct among its members has moved to the other side of the Atlantic.

Tainted as well by a past president attacking Black Lives Matter as a “racist hate movement” in April and a newly hired Diversity & Inclusion advisor suddenly exiting, the HFPA is starting to get the cold shoulder in top European circles, members have noted. Correspondingly, active members still seeking a byline have been shifting their efforts and attention on filmmakers and producers in Africa, India and other parts of Europe away from the salons of Paris, Rome and Berlin, a number of sources say.

Then again, as more mask and vaccination mandates are put in place and infection rates rise, HFPA members may not be the only ones not attending festivals this year.

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