SPC sets sail with screeners in mail

'Frozen River' DVDs on way to awards voters

NEW YORK -- Sony Pictures Classics launched screener season during the weekend by sending DVDs of its drama "Frozen River" to awards voters.

"River" was shipped as star Melissa Leo nabbed best actress honors at this weekend's San Sebastian International Film Festival. SPC acquired the film in January just before it won writer-director Courtney Hunt the dramatic grand jury prize at Sundance.

Three years ago, SPC also kick-started the screeners process with its late September mailing of "Junebug," a strategy that helped nab an Oscar nom for Amy Adams, then a relative unknown. Last year, Fox Searchlight broke the early mailing record just after Labor Day with its simultaneous mailing of "The Namesake," "Once" and "Waitress."

Meanwhile, Overture was the first out of the gate in terms of setting up a screening program this year -- it began offering Academy members and members of other voting groups screenings of its drama "The Visitor" last week in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

Ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences moved up the Oscars from late March to late February in 2004, awards campaigns have been seeking earlier traction.

SPC is aiming for acting, writing, directing and picture noms with "River" but might have its best chance with longtime character actress Leo's breakout performance. The film opened in limited release Aug. 1 and reached $1.9 million at the domestic boxoffice this weekend.

Oscar voters receive their nomination ballots Dec. 12. Polls close Jan. 12, and noms will be announced Jan. 22.