Recently, I got an e-mail from Dan Mirvish, founder of the Slamdance Film Festival. It starts, "I hope you're doing well! We're having a great time with Kathleen at the helm of Slamdance--Seattle's loss to be sure." He's referring, of course, to longtime Seattle film programmer and producer Kathleen McInnis' new post as the Festival Director of Slamdance. McInnis was one of the architects, if not the architect, of the Fly Filmmaking program at the Seattle International Film Festival, and she's bringing the event to Slamdance under the name "On-the-Fly." Before McInnis left Seattle, she brought Mirvish in to make one of SIFF's Fly Films. He came up with a real estate musical called Open House. Now he's made a feature version of Open House starring Sally Kellerman, Anthony Rapp (from Rent), and a host of others.

Since Open House premiered at Slamdance last year, Mirvish has been rustling up support and attention for the movie by any means possible. In August, he learned about the "Original Musical" category of the Academy Awards. This category has been dormant because it's for musicals written directly for the screen, which means stage adaptations like Phantom of the Opera and Chicago are not eligible, nor are movies that include previously written songs like Beyond the Sea and Moulin Rouge.

In order for this category to be activated, there needs to be five eligible movies, each including at least five original songs, three of which would get nominations. Of course Open House fits the bill, as does Team America, Neil Young's Greendale, and the Disney cartoon Home on the Range. That was four, and Mirvish knew there needed to be five, so when he was at a film festival in Germany he and Robert Peters, one of the actors from Open House, teamed up to make a musical in Hamburg. It's called Big in Germany, and it's a $5,000 movie about a self-help therapist on a book tour. Mirvish told me, "Among other adventures in making the second film, we were forced by a mafia kingpin to shoot live sex acts in the red-light district of Hamburg. Oh well, anything for an Oscar!"

Though Mirvish admits his push for Open House is a brash act to help activate a little-used category for the Academy Awards, the fact of the matter is that there are five eligible films this year. But the board of governors of the Oscars, acting on the recommendation of its music branch, voted not to activate the category. In one sense, this was another brilliant publicity stunt by Mirvish, but he's quick to point out that it's bigger than that. He writes, "It's clear that the board of governors looked at the slate and were unduly embarrassed. The Academy has simply not recognized the strides of independent filmmaking. The prospect of nominating a film made for less than the price of an Oscar gift bag made them squeamish." Academy spokesperson John Pavlik responded that the potential nominees weren't "in keeping with the level of accomplishment that normally comes with Academy Award nominations."

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