Academy President Says Potential India Office Just an "Idea," Despite Local Enthusiasm

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AMPAS president John Bailey.

On a four-day visit to India, John Bailey also highlighted efforts to increase the number of members from the country as well as increase the awareness of Indian cinema in Hollywood.

Academy president John Bailey's four-day visit to India began with an enthusiastic proposal by local authorities for the body to set up an office in the film hub of Mumbai, adding to its outposts in New York and London. 

On Saturday, Vinod Tawde, the cultural affairs minister of the state of Maharashtra, where the Bollywood film industry is based, tweeted his welcome to Bailey, along with an offer. "It was an absolute pleasure to welcome John Bailey, President of the Academy Awards (#Oscars) in Mumbai, the home ground of Bollywood! India's entertainment capital has opened its doors and the government of Maharashtra has proposed to establish Oscars office in Mumbai, representing Asian film industry," Tawde tweeted. 

For those reasons, Bailey's visit to India, the first by an Academy president, has been keenly followed in the local media. 

At a meet and greet Tuesday in New Delhi, Bailey sought to clarify the matter of an Indian office, telling The Hollywood Reporter that the "issue of opening an Academy office is something that has been talked about and tossed about in the press quite a bit since we've been here."

Refuting some local reports, Bailey added that an office "is an extraordinary idea but the Academy is not a corporation, the Academy is a member-based organization and decisions are made by administration and staff along with the 54 members of the board of governors. This is an idea, it's a germ of an idea, which we have talked about here with a number of people. There is a lot of enthusiasm for it."

Bailey pointed out that the organization's office in London covers the U.K. and European countries, which have numerous Academy members while the New York office deals with many members on the East Coast. "Right now, there are 27 Indian members in the Academy so, again, it's a germ of an idea [to have an India office]," Bailey said, adding, "I can't say anything more than that except that we are very excited with the enthusiasm. We'll see what happens."

Last year, as part of its diversity push, the Academy enrolled  928 new members, including leading Indian figures such as actress Madhuri Dixit, actors Anil Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah and producers Aditya Chopra and Guneet Monga, among others.

When asked by THR how Indian membership could increase, Bailey said that "historically, members have been accepted when current members sponsored other members with two letters of support from people in their respective branch [such as film editing and cinematography]."

Bailey pointed that since the Academy unveiled its 2020 initiative, with the intent to double the number of its women and diverse members by 2020, "we decided to do more proactive investigation and exploration of filmmakers around the world that the executive committees of the different branches could look at and ask questions to find out who they are. So instead of being passive, we have been reaching out."

Bailey highlighted that this approach means that it is also up to local industries, such as in India, which can interact with the Academy and suggest more names.

"There is an aspect called committee-considered, and so many of our increasing international members of the last three years have been accepted into the Academy through the committee-considered list," he explained, pointing out that members of the Academy's 17 branches "look at a considered list of names that have been forwarded by both members and the staff and research people saying that these are people we should be looking at."

The final compiled list from each branch is then presented to the board of governors at a meeting, which is held at the end of June. "We have been offering membership to many more international members," he said, adding, "Last year's class of 928 members had 50 percent members who were international."

Tawde had also tweeted that the Maharashtra state government had proposed to the Academy to include a bust of Dadasaheb Phalke, who is considered the father of Indian cinema, at the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Phalke made India's first feature film, Raja Harishchandra, in 1913.

At a press conference in Mumbai, Bailey said that "the first gallery in the permanent exhibition is about pioneers and early founders. There will be exhibits of the Lumiere brothers, Alice Guy-Blache, and I think it's very appropriate to have Dadasaheb Phalke represent India. There will also be mentions of Satyajit Ray." He also added that "we hope to open [the Academy museum] in early 2020."

Bailey, who has had a long career as a cinematographer with credits including Paul Schrader's American Gigolo, Robert Redford's Ordinary People and Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill, was accompanied on his India visit with his wife, film editor Carol Littleton. She received an Oscar nomination for editing Steven Spielberg's E.T. while her other credits include Body Heat and The Big Chill. She also won an Emmy for Tuesdays With Morrie.

The couple's packed India schedule included a visit to the Taj Mahal on Monday after they attended the Maharashtra State Film Awards on Sunday in Mumbai, which honor regional language Marathi cinema. In Delhi, they addressed a wide-ranging session organized by the government's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which was attended by students of the National School of Drama and aspiring filmmakers. The India visit concluded Tuesday with another interactive session with select industry professionals followed by a sit-down dinner organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

At a press conference, when asked about what it was like to be a woman editor in Hollywood during her long career, Littleton said that the editing branch of the Academy has "about 17-20 percent members who are women which is a large percentage compared to some branches which have few women members. So I have been working essentially in a man's world all this time and it has not been a burden in the sense that I feel that we [women] could pretty much hold our own."

When asked about the perception of Indian cinema in the U.S., Bailey said that "Indian cinema is not that well known to Hollywood-based Academy members as much as French, English, Italian or, basically, western cinema." He explained that part of the reason for that was that the general distribution and exposure for Indian cinema in the U.S. was still limited. "I understand Indian cinema is doing very well in China and other countries, so it's also up to the Indian industry to increase its efforts in the U.S.," he added.

He pointed that he personally had a strong acquaintance with Japanese cinema, going back to the silent era and even worked in the country when he photographed Schrader's 1985 Japan-set film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

"Carol and I have very limited exposure to the very rich and diverse history of Indian cinema and we are here on behalf of the Academy to learn more about what Indian filmmakers and institutions hope to do in future, especially, in their relationship with the Academy and also to promote more active dialog with our different cultures," Bailey said.