DGA Awards reverse course on eligibility rules, allow for day-and-date releases like ‘Dune’

Dune” auteur Denis Villeneuve and “King Richard” director Reinaldo Marcus Green are among the acclaimed filmmakers who likely breathed a sigh of relief on Friday afternoon, as the Directors Guild of America announced it had reversed course on its eligibility rules for the 2022 ceremony to allow for day-and-date releases to compete for the DGA Awards next year.

“The change will allow films that receive a ‘day and date’ release to be eligible for the award if they have a qualifying theatrical run and are marketed as a theatrical film,” the DGA said in a press release. “The National Board made this decision due to the unique and unusual circumstances facing the industry this year.”

Back in June, the Directors Guild announced it would return to pre-pandemic requirements for all movies released after June 15, 2021. That decision meant the entire slate of Warner Bros. movies released in the remaining six months of the year would be disqualified from the competition, as the studio had previously made the controversial decision to debut its 2021 features both in theaters and via HBO Max.

“After over a year of darkness, theater marquees lighting up across our nation have been a welcome sight for our healing communities,” DGA president Thomas Schlamme said in a statement to Deadline at the time. “We celebrate the return of the important role that theatrical cinema plays in bringing together audiences as they collectively experience films as the filmmakers intended them to be viewed.”

But while it’s clear the DGA and the filmmakers want movies to be seen in theaters, studios have continually sought to bend the traditional theatrical window to suit audience needs and interests. Netflix will offer its entire roster of awards contenders to subscribers — although many of those movies, including “The Power of the Dog” and “The Lost Daughter,” have built-in limited theatrical releases before dropping on the platform. Likewise, Amazon and Apple TV+ will debut its contenders online after a short theatrical run. Only Warner Bros. has gone with the immediate day-and-date model, much to the consternation of its filmmakers.

“I learned in the news that Warner Bros. has decided to release ‘Dune’ on HBO Max at the same time as our theatrical release, using prominent images from our movie to promote their streaming service. With this decision AT&T has hijacked one of the most respectable and important studios in film history,” Villeneuve said in a statement to Variety last year. “There is absolutely no love for cinema, nor for the audience here. It is all about the survival of a telecom mammoth, one that is currently bearing an astronomical debt of more than $150 billion. Therefore, even though ‘Dune’ is about cinema and audiences, AT&T is about its own survival on Wall Street. With HBO Max’s launch a failure thus far, AT&T decided to sacrifice Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate in a desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.” (AT&T has since announced plans to sell off WarnerMedia to Discovery.)

Even directors closely associated with television slammed the decision. “I don’t think, frankly that I would’ve taken the job if I knew it was going to be a day-and-date release. I think it’s awful,” David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos” and co-writer and producer of “The Many Saints of Newark,” told Deadline. Chase said he was “extremely angry” with the decision.

“I mean, I don’t know how much you go into this, you know, like…okay. If I was…one of those guys, if one of those executives was sitting here and I was to start pissing and moaning about it, they’d say, you know, there’s 17 other movies that have the same problem,” Chase said. “What could we do? Covid! Well, I know, but those 16 other movies didn’t start out as a television show. They don’t have to shed that television image before you get people to the theater. But we do. And that’s where we’re at. People should go see it in a theater. It was designed to be a movie. It was…it’s beautiful as a movie. I never thought that it would be back on HBO. Never.”

Even in these early days of awards season, the DGA decision is a boon for Villeneuve, a nominee in 2017 for “Arrival” and an early favorite in the Best Director race among Gold Derby users and experts. Green, who directed the Will Smith film “King Richard,” which debuted at Telluride to strong enthusiasm and early whispers of a Best Picture candidacy, is also a beneficiary of the news. The DGA Awards are an often reliable indicator of Best Picture glory. In its 73 years as an institution, the DGA Awards have awarded the director of the eventual Oscar winner for Best Picture 56 times, including last year with Chloe Zhao and “Nomadland.”

According to the DGA board, the requirement that all contenders have an exclusive theatrical release of seven days or more will return for the 2023 DGA Awards, meaning all 2022 movies hoping to contend will have to do so without a day-and-date debut.

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