Remarkably diverse shortlist lauds full spectrum of talent in a renaissance era

The shortlist is in, and the race is on. The Academy’s documentary committee has chosen the 12 pictures that will contend for Oscar nominations between now and Jan. 27, when the five nominees are announced.

This year’s dozen comprises a fascinating spread, from acknowledged masters like Errol Morris — on the list for the first time in his career with the topical “Fog of War” — to phenomenal first-timers like Andrew Jarecki, whose haunting “Capturing the Friedmans” captured the documentary prize at Sundance — as well as a $3 million chunk of theatrical revenue.

Even as the rules have evolved this year to emphasize theatrical exhibition as a qualifying factor, some outstanding theatrical performers were snubbed, including “Ghosts of the Abyss,” in which James Cameron pushed the boundaries of technology to explore the wreck of the Titanic in Imax 3-D, reaping $15 million theatrically to lead the field at the box office this year.

Among the fine print of Acad rule changes for 2003 are requirements that filmmakers can exhibit for a minimum four-city, two-day run, or adhere to a nine-month holdback for television or Internet broadcast from the date nominations are announced. In the first case, a six-month TV and/or Internet holdback is required. Proof of newspaper advertising is also essential.

Filmmakers seem to have digested the revisions, as submissions were equivalent to last year’s levels.

According to Acad staffers, 60 features qualified, and there were only three fewer docu short submissions this year than last year.

“No problems or complaints have come to me,” says doc branch governor Freida Lee Mock. “I haven’t heard of any bottlenecks.”

In January, Mock and her fellow doc branch governors, Michael Apted and Arthur Dong, presented new rules to hundreds of doc makers at the Sundance Film Festival. Mock contends this outreach was instrumental in publicizing new requirements; Acad also posted specifics on its Web site in March.

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