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What is up with that Seinfeld guy?

sein.jpg 

Is this guy is incredibly depressing, or what?

So, what was the deal with Jerry Seinfeld at the Oscars, smoothly delivering a chunk of some old act before presenting the documentary feature award? Who does this guy think he is, and why was he invited? What does he have to do with films or documentaries, besides having once starred in a feature-length advertisement for himself (and American Express commercials before Ellen DeGeneres)? Was he auditioning to be Oscar host next year, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Johnny Carson or something? What is up with that? Doesn't he have enough money and get enough attention? Next year will they ask Michael Richards to comically complain about how the subtitles, and the amount of dermal melanin in the actors, make him uninterested in seeing some or all of the Best Foreign Language Film nominees? Ho-ho!

John Sinno, the Seattle-based Oscar-nominated director of "Iraq in Fragments," has written an open letter to the Academy about Seinfeld's snide, extended putdown of docs at this year's Oscars:

I had the great fortune of attending the 79th Academy Awards following my nomination as producer for a film in the Best Documentary Feature category. At the Awards ceremony, most categories featured an introduction that glorified the filmmakers’ craft and the role it plays for the film audience and industry. But when comedian Jerry Seinfeld introduced the award for Best Documentary Feature, he began by referring to a documentary that features himself as a subject, then proceeded to poke fun at it by saying it won no awards and made no money. He then revealed his love of documentaries, as they have a very "real" quality, while making a comically sour face. This less-than-flattering beginning was followed by a lengthy digression that had nothing whatsoever to do with documentary films. The clincher, however, came when he wrapped up his introduction by calling all five nominated films "incredibly depressing!"

While I appreciate the role of humor in our lives, Jerry Seinfeld’s remarks were made at the expense of thousands of documentary filmmakers and the entire documentary genre. Obviously we make films not for awards or money, although we are glad if we are fortunate enough to receive them. The important thing is to tell stories, whether of people who have been damaged by war, of humankind’s reckless attitude toward nature and the environment, or even of the lives and habits of penguins. With his lengthy, dismissive and digressive introduction, Jerry Seinfeld had no time left for any individual description of the five nominated films. And by labeling the documentaries “incredibly depressing,” he indirectly told millions of viewers not to bother seeing them because they’re nothing but downers. He wasted a wonderful opportunity to excite viewers about the nominated films and about the documentary genre in general. To have a presenter introduce a category with such disrespect for the nominees and their work is counter to the principles the Academy was founded upon. To be nominated for an Academy Award is one of the highest honors our peers can give us, and to have the films dismissed in such an offhand fashion was deeply insulting. The Academy owes all documentary filmmakers an apology....

I have to agree with Sinno. This wasn't like Chris Rock taking a gratuitous swipe at Jude Law (only to be "corrected" by the utterly humorless and pompous Sean Penn). Sure, Seinfeld was doing his obnoxious putz routine, playing the Philistine. His schtick was slick, and his jokes (though hackneyed and predictable) pandered to the prejudices of the crowd in the room and the general audience watching on TV. But his bit was, no question, lengthy and dismissive -- in a year when the documentary nominees were, for the most part, better movies than those in the Best Picture category. The docs deserved so much better.

Sinno's letter continues after the jump...

The rest of Sinno's letter:

Seinfeld’s introduction arrived on the heels of an announcement by the Academy that the number of cities where documentary films must screen to qualify for an Academy Award is being increased by 75%. This will make it much more difficult for independent filmmakers’ work to qualify for the Best Documentary Feature Award, while giving an advantage to films distributed by large studios. Fewer controversial films will qualify for Academy consideration, and my film Iraq in Fragments would have been disqualified this year. This announcement came as a great disappointment to me and to other documentary filmmakers. I hope the Academy will reconsider its decision. On a final note, I would like to point out that there was no mention of the Iraq War during the Oscar telecast, though it was on the minds of many in the theatre and of millions of viewers. It is wonderful to see the Academy support the protection of the environment. Unfortunately there is more than just one inconvenient truth in this world. Having mention of the Iraq War avoided altogether was a painful reminder for many of us that our country is living in a state of denial. As filmmakers, it is the greatest professional crime we can commit not to speak out with the truth. We owe it to the public.

I hope what I have said is taken to heart. It comes from my concern for the cinematic art and its crucial role in the times we’re living in.

John Sinno Academy Award Nominee, Iraq In Fragments Co-Founder, Northwest Documentary Association

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