A question of categories

Lack of separate docu, animation honors raises serious issues

The Golden Globes don’t deal with reality too well. A documentary film hasn’t won a Golden Globe since 1977, after which the category was dropped.

The absence of the docu category — the Globes have awarded a doc honor only six times in its history — has never been more clear than in recent years, as nonfiction films have grown in popularity at the box office.

That one of the year’s most popular and acclaimed films, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” has no category to compete in for this year’s Globes makes the omission all the more apparent.

And there has never been a category for animation, such as the one recently adopted by the Oscars, though that hasn’t stopped the Globes from honoring its share of toons, especially in the past 15 years.

The documentary category, given once in 1954 and again from 1973-1977, still exists but has been inactive, says HFPA prexy Lorenzo Soria. A 15-year member of the org, Soria says he doesn’t know why the docu award was dropped, but can say that this is the first time he can recall its absence as an issue.

“The past two or three years, because of the attention that documentaries have gotten and the quality of the documentaries that have been shown, there has been talk between some of us that maybe we should consider making it active again,” Soria says.

This year’s crop of docu contenders is deeper than just “Fahrenheit 9/11,” with “Super-Size Me,” “The Hunting of the President” and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” generating lots of press and making a stronger impact on the public than documentaries have had in years.

Soria says rules can be changed by a vote of the general membership of the HFPA, which meets monthly, though while there has been talk no action has been proposed on these issues.

“There have been discussions, but no formal request to do something about it,” Soria says. “We have not acted on it and, should we do so, it’s something we need to do at the very beginning of the year. Obviously, we cannot change the rules in October.”

A presence at the Golden Globes would be a great platform for publicizing films both to the audiences who watch the awards ceremony and to Oscar voters, says Sandra Ruch, exec director of the Intl. Documentary Assn.

“Until recently, we’ve always been the stepchildren of the genre,” Ruch says. “It’d be nice to be recognized in every respect, like any other film genre.”

The case for an animation category is more difficult, considering that two animated fea-

tures have won the best comedy-musical Globe. “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Toy Story 2” have won the category, while “Chicken Run,” “Shrek” and “Finding Nemo” have been nommed.

Singular honor

Going even further was a special award given to Robin Williams in 1995 for his voice over performance as The Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin,” the only such award given for a toon voice perf. And toons have done particularly well in the original song and score categories, with the likes of “Anastasia,” “A Bug’s Life,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Tarzan” all getting recognition.

That the Globes have given some recognition to animated films, there is some support for following the lead of the Oscars and creating its own category. Film critic and animation expert Leonard Maltin says that animated films deserves more recognition than they’ll get from the occasional breakout hit that can compete in the drama or comedy-musical categories.

“When there’s that much quality work being done, it merits separate attention,” says Maltin, author of “Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons.” “Certainly, it would be a tremendous coup, a great feather in the cap (for an animated film) to compete and win against the big boys, against major live-action films, but that’s not going to happen often. If it happens, it’ll be a fluke. Why not have a category where you can compete toe to toe with likeminded films? There’s enough variety within animation, already there’s apples and oranges even within that category.”

Leveling the field

“A great animated film can and should compete alongside live action — but I’m for anything that recognizes animation as an art form (and not just a babysitter),” says Jerry Beck, author of several books on animation including “Animation Art: From Pencil to Pixel, The World of Cartoon, Anime and CGI.” “As the reality that an animated feature probably won’t be recognized alongside live action at the Golden Globes, I’d be in favor of there being such a catagory. As animated films are more popular in Europe and Asia, I’d think the Foreign Press should recognize that.”

Soria says that the HFPA also needs to consider consistency and the possibility that while documentaries and animation are booming right now, there’s no guarantee it will continue.

“Everybody is coming up with very respectful and good arguments and it’s not as easy as saying well there are more and more animated movies being producing therefore let’s create an animation category,” he says. “We also try to do something that will be tailored to what might be the ‘Fahrenheit’ or the ‘Shrek’ of the year, but that can stay through the ages and allow us some consistency from one year to the other.”

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