The Chicago Film CriticsAssociation have joined their Los Angeles counterparts is suspending theirend-of-year critics awards in protest over the decision by the Motion PictureAssociation of American to prevent screener tapes from being seen at home by anyoneexcept Oscar voters.

A statement from the Chicagocritics explained that their association was "disturbed by the unfairness andinequities caused by the current MPAA screener ban - and also by the fact thatmany affected film companies and divisions were denied a true voice in thematter."

Chicago's critics, the mostprominent of whom is Roger Ebert, said the 2003 suspension will be in force"until the MPAA allows all companies and/or subsidiaries affected to vote forthemselves, or until it releases all those who disagree with the ban fromforced participation, or until the companies and individual filmmakers who areopposed to that ban break it on their own."

The motion for suspensionwas passed unanimously by the Chicago critics' board of directors and approvedby a two-thirds majority vote of the membership.

The CFCA membership addedthat although the MPAA's recent modification of its screener ban- allowingscreeners to be sent to Academy voters as a one-year experiment - "was a step in the right direction",it fails to address two key issues.

"First, by changing therules in this way so late in the game, the MPAA's motion still guarantees thatthe smaller studios most dependent on screeners will be unable to competitivelypromote and display their films.

"Second, the MPAA's screenerban continues to unfairly insult and stigmatize the still-excluded critics andcraft guilds by falsely implying that they are somehow 'the usual suspects' infilm piracy.

"We believe that any filmcompany has the right to withhold screeners of its work if it truly fearsduplication and illegal resale. But we also believe that no company that wishesto distribute its own screeners for purposes of prize contests or media coverageshould be denied that right, whether by a parent studio or by a professionalorganization."