Some Dark Clouds on Oscar's Horizon

01/26/2004 5:59PM

There appear to be a few dark clouds hanging over the upcoming Oscar ceremony, starting with the abrupt withdrawal of Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation from the 14th annual Night of 100 Stars charity event, reports the Los Angeles Times. The foundation, whose board also includes Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, has sponsored the event for the past six years.

The other pain in the side comes from the FBI arrest of a Chicago man in connection with the illegal Internet distribution of Academy-member screening copies of such films as "The Last Samurai."

As for the Night of 100 Stars, described by the Times as a formal gathering organized by former sports agent Norby Walters and featuring many B-list celebrities, Scorsese's foundation pulled out as the sponsor after being questioned about the event by California law enforcement officials. A spokesman for state Attorney General Bill Lockyer tells the paper that the office was "reviewing the event," which in part claims to be for film preservation, but would not specify what was being questioned.

A spokesperson for Scorsese declined to say why the "Gangs of New York" filmmaker has withdrawn. Past attendees of the gala have included Judd Nelson, Tom Arnold, Harry Hamlin, Bridget Fonda, David Hasselhoff and Anna Nicole Smith, the Times reports.

Despite the setback, organizer Walters tells the newspaper that this year's event, which had been going for $1,000 a ticket, will take place as scheduled on Oscar night Feb. 29 at the Beverly Hills Hotel-- though it will not raise money.

"I'm going to invite everybody for free," said Walters. "This is my party for 150 actors."

Meanwhile, Academy member (and actor in "The Godfather") Carmine Caridi, 69, said in an affidavit that he sent every so-called screener videotape he has received in the past three years to an acquaintance in the Chicago area, Russell W. Sprague, reports the Associated Press.

Sprague, 51, was arrested at his house in Homewood, Ill., last week after a search of the premises reportedly turned up hundreds of films, many of which had been converted to DVD format and had the Academy's encryption code erased, along with an array of duplicating equipment, authorities said.

Sprague is charged with criminal copyright infringement and is to appear in a federal court in Chicago on Friday, officials said.

There has been no comment from Caridi, though his affidavit states he received no money for the films.

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