×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Academy’s doc rules keep changing

Eye on the Oscars: Documentaries Preview

Thanks to the Academy’s intricate, ever-changing system of qualifying rules, the documentary category is proving once again to be among the most contentious.

A new rule requiring a review in the New York Times or Los Angeles Times for a film to register eligible was intended to both narrow the number of qualifying pics as well as validate a doc’s theatrical bonafides. It failed to accomplish either.

Instead, a record-breaking 126 docs are eligible this year.

That, in part, was due to the International Documentary Assn.’s DocuWeeks going off without a hitch. For a fee, DocuWeeks series is designed to enable pics that might not have theatrical distribution in place to qualify for Academy Award consideration by providing a de facto Oscar-qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles. While org had to scramble when the rule change was announced in January, they managed to make an arrangement with the L.A. Times, thus allowing the annual event to continue.

Since its 1997 preem, the fest has qualified more than 205 pics, shorts and features for Oscar consideration. Sixteen feature-length docs that qualified at DocuWeeks went on to be nommed for an Academy Award, while three –“Taxi to the Dark Side,” “Born Into Brothels” and “The Last Days” — took home the Oscar.

This year, DocuWeeks featured 17 full-length docs, all of which went on to qualify for Oscar consideration.

With both doc and narrative theatrical auds shrinking and digital auds steadily increasing, some in the nonfiction film community question AMPAS’ desire for a “legitimate theatrical release.”

“It makes no sense,” says HBO’s president of documentary programming Sheila Nevins. “It’s some sort of theatrical bombast. I recently watched “Arbitrage” (a narrative) in a small independent movie theater and my co-worker watched it on (OnDemand) that same night at home. So which one is theatrical? The film I saw or the one that she saw?”

In spite of any reservations, Nevins plays by the rules.

In past years HBO and other television distribs, who are instrumental in funding docs, could rent a theater for a week — a tactic known as “four-walling” — thereby quietly qualifying their docs and saving the majority of press for pic’s future television premiere.

With this year’s rule changes, that technique went out the window. HBO narrowed down their list to just four films: Matthew Akers’ “Marina Abramovic the Artist Is Present,” Liz Garbus’ “Love Marilyn,” Alex Gibney’s “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” and Rory Kennedy’s “Ethel.”

“At the end of the day, the award is about excellence,” says Gibney, an Oscar winner and Acad member.

But when the 178-member doc branch received a package of 80 eligible docs last month to view and vote on by Nov. 26, some wonder if a few “excellent” films may fall by the wayside; it seems unlikely that each and every working member will see every last film.

“The films that have garnered attention, popularity and have budgets to get them out there they are going to have the advantage,” says Steve James, director of “Head Games” and “Hoop Dreams,” which was infamously left of the shortlist. “But I think on some level that’s what (the branch) always wanted.”

Eye on the Oscars: Documentaries Preview
New rules rock Oscar doc race | Women are the gatekeepers to doc world | Academy’s doc rules keep changing

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Wings of Desire

    German Heritage Sector Applauds Increased Digitization, Preservation Funding

    LYON, France  — Germany’s film heritage sector is celebrating a new federal and state-funded initiative launching in January that will provide €10 million ($11.15 million) a year towards the digitization and preservation of feature films. Rainer Rother, the artistic director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, outlined the plan at a panel discussion at the Lumière Festival’s [...]

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content