Road to Oscar win passes through DC

Washington, D.C., is becoming an unlikely campaign stop for Hollywood’s most glamorous event: the Academy Awards.

In the past few months, stars and directors from at least four Oscar-nominated films have stopped in the nation’s capital to tout a cause, mention their movie and get some free publicity in the process.

And what’s unusual about this year’s campaigning is several of the films have nothing to do with politics.

There are about 6,000 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which decides the winners (ballots were due Tuesday). About 1,000 of them live outside of Los Angeles.

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But even though Washington may not seem a logical stop on the road to an acceptance speech at the Dolby Theater, it brings filmmakers national media attention in the guise of discussing substantive policy issues.

Bradley Cooper of “Silver Linings Playbook” and director David O. Russell met with Vice President Biden earlier this month — to discuss mental illness. The cast of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” visited the White House last week — for a discussion with students. Both films are up for Best Picture.

While the campaign stops may seem unusual, they are a win-win situation for both Washington and Hollywood: Celebrities get to show their serious side while politicians get to enjoy the attention that comes with the star power. 

The hope among filmmakers is that Academy voters, who have a history of awarding films that embrace a cause, will take notice. 

Biden’s official Twitter account featured photos of his meeting with Cooper and Russell. 

The director, during his visit, also joined a bipartisan group of senators to unveil a mental health bill that would strengthen treatment options at the community level.

Meanwhile, Cooper joined Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) at an event at the Center for American Progress to talk about mental health treatment. He also visited patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“With these Oscar-nominated films, it’s almost like running a campaign,” said Kimball Stroud, a Washington-based film producer and promoter. “Everything that these filmmakers can do to draw attention to these films, they do it.”

The ties between Washington and Hollywood have always been close: The West Coast is a favorite fundraising destination, and the head of the Motion Picture Association of America is one of the most plum jobs in D.C. 

But the campaign for the 85th Academy Awards has seen more visits to the capital than any in recent memory.

Best Picture nominee “Zero Dark Thirty” held a Washington premiere in January, while actor/director Ben Affleck was in town in October for the premiere of “Argo.” Affleck’s film, which chronicles the escape of several Americans from revolutionary Iran, is a favorite for the top prize when the awards are announced on Sunday night. 

Former President Carter, who was in the White House when the events in “Argo” took place, praised the movie in an advance copy that went to Academy voters.

But the prize for strongest Washington campaign could go to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which is nominated for Best Picture.

Spielberg, who is up for Best Director, screened his film at the White House in November, brought it to the Senate in December and helped arrange for former President Clinton to introduce its Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes in January. 

Star Daniel Day-Lewis, who joined Spielberg at the White House and in the Senate, is a favorite for Best Actor.

White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted a photo of Day-Lewis in the Lincoln bedroom looking at a copy of the Gettysburg Address. The actor was shown the photo on the red carpet during the Golden Globes ceremony. “It was one of the great privileges of our lives,” he said of his White House visit.

All the Washington campaigning is a remarkable change from last year, when only Best Actress nominee Meryl Streep, who won the Oscar, came to town for a Vogue photo shoot on the grounds of the Capitol.

Kirby Dick, the writer and director of the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Invisible War,” has been in Washington for several events and had positive experiences with lawmakers and administration officials.

Dick said he’s pleased his film, which is about sexual assaults in the military, has affected policy-making.

“A few days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saw the film, he announced some significant policy changes,” Dick told The Hill, pointing to an April 2012 press conference where Panetta laid out new rules to combat sexual assault.

“We know he held that press conference in part because the film made such an impact on him.”

And former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was asked if he’d seen the film during his confirmation hearings.

Dick’s experience is different from that of the creators of “Zero Dark Thirty,” which became the subject of controversy after several lawmakers questioned its depiction of torture and the role “enhanced interrogation” played in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden.

The political backlash is thought to have dimmed the film’s chances of winning Best Picture and may have also hurt Best Actress nominee Jessica Chastain and writer Mark Boal.

GoldenDerby.com, a website that tracks the odds for Oscar wins, ranks “Zero Dark Thirty” fifth for Best Picture. Early on in the race, it had called the film a “major contender” for the award. The site puts “Argo” in the top spot, followed by “Lincoln.”

And “Lincoln” was also the subject of some controversy, when Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) requested a correction to the film’s depiction that two of his state’s three representatives voted against outlawing slavery in 1865.


Screenwriter Tony Kushner responded via a letter to The Wall Street Journal, saying the changes were done for story-telling purposes.

“I hope nobody is shocked to learn that I also made up dialogue and imagined encounters and invented characters,” he wrote.