Thursday, March 4, 2010

'Hurt Locker' Marred By Oscar Ban, Lawsuit Days Before Awards

Last week, "The Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier drew heat for an e-mail he sent to Oscar voters urging them to vote for his apolitical Iraq War story instead of "a $500M film," a not-so-oblique reference to James Cameron's fellow Best Picture nominee, "Avatar." He issued an apology for the "extremely inappropriate" e-mail a few days later, calling his breach of award campaigning rules "out of line and not in the spirit of the celebration of cinema that this acknowledgment is."

Chartier acted quickly to make amends for his lapse in judgment, but not quickly enough to sidestep more serious repercussions. In a press release issued Tuesday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that only three of the "Hurt Locker" producers will be present for Sunday's awards ceremony. Chartier won't be permitted to attend "as a penalty for violating Academy campaigning standards."

The press release goes on to quote the official campaign rules, which prohibit "casting a negative or derogatory light on a competing film." While Chartier's e-mail didn't technically slam a specific film, his call for voters to support independent film over big-budget studio efforts certainly carries negative undertones.

In the midst of this ongoing controversy, "The Hurt Locker" is also now being targeted by Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, E! Online reports. The Iraq veteran is filing a lawsuit against the makers of the film, claiming that star Jeremy Renner's character Will James is based on Sarver and his own wartime experiences. This is a problem because the film's credits conclude with the usual disclaimer, that all characters are works of fiction and any similarities to real incidents are entirely coincidental.

"The Hurt Locker" screenwriter Mark Boal was embedded in Iraq with Sarver's unit, and his experiences there inspired the writing of the nine-times Oscar-nominated film. Sarver alleges that Boal used actual incidents from his experiences in Iraq to color the story, and that framing "Locker" as a pure work of fiction is a move designed to cheat him out of due compensation.

Summit Entertainment responded quickly with a statement. "Ever since Summit acquired the distribution rights to the finished feature film ... we have been proud to showcase the film to audiences in the U.S. The film is a story about heroes depicting a fictional account of what brave men and women do on the battlefield."

"We have no doubt that Master Sgt. Sarver served his country with honor and commitment risking his life for a greater good, but we distributed the film based on a fictional screenplay written by Mark Boal. We hope for a quick resolution to the claims made by Master Sgt. Sarver."

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