The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ board of governors has tweaked its docu category rules, exempting pics that receive a “true theatrical rollout” from its TV blackout provision.
Effective for the 2005 Academy year, once a documentary meets the minimum 25 commercial exhibitions (at least two consecutive days each) in 15 states, it may then be broadcast on television at any time without being disqualified from Oscar consideration.
Amendment comes as a surprise relief to doc distribs, given that the board of governors ruled in November to extend its blackout window — originally six months — to an even stricter nine months. That rule disqualified box- office champ “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which Michael Moore pulled from the documentary race so it could be shown on pay TV before the Nov. 2 presidential election.
But that was 2004, and this is now.
“With the changing landscape of documentary distribution, we thought, let’s pull back,” said Acad governor Arthur Dong. “These changes are reflective of a very positive advancement for documentaries in theaters,” borne out not only by “9/11” but also such Oscar-nominated docs as “Winged Migration,” “Spellbound” and “Super Size Me,” which fulfilled their theatrical commitments in less than six months.
Changes also reflect the reality that many theatrical documentaries are TV-financed, such as IFC Films’ “Touching the Void,” which was co-funded by U.K.’s Channel 4 Television and PBS. Both stations had to postpone their airdates for “Void” in order to keep pic in contention.
Dong said the old rules were implemented not to block docs from expanding their audiences but to promote the theatrical viewing experience. For that reason, even under the 2005 rules, screenings held at festivals, benefits and special events do not count toward a film’s commercial exhibition requirement.
New rules also contain a provision requiring that short documentaries be “contractually available for theatrical release” for six months after receiving an Oscar nom.
“We’ve had nominees and winners that roll out for like a week in New York and L.A., without any intention of being in the theater beyond that,” Dong said. “They violate what we think is a very important philosophy in our branch, and in the Academy, and that is that we are honoring theatrical motion pictures. We do not want to see the Oscar used as a marketing tool only.”