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Oscars to snub documentaries without NY Times or LA Times review

2011 Best Documentary Academy Award winner Inside Job

The Academy Awards are reported to announce new rules later this week aimed at narrowing awards eligibility to documentary films that are reviewed in The New York Times or the Los Angeles Times only.

The new rules for submissions are part of an effort to shrink the number of qualifying films which currently comes to just over a hundred per year. Sources say that the problem for the Academy lies with the fact that a large amount of these admissions are actually destined for TV, not cinema.

“There were over 100 entries in the category this year and it is just too much, it’s getting out of hand,” Ric Robertson, Academy COO,  told Deadline’s Pete Hammond who broke the story.

Strong critisicm directed at the Academy spread rapidly on social media networks this morning as bloggers, critics and film lovers united in their surprise and anger concerning the predicted new rules.

Indiewire called the move “unbelievable” and said: ”it’s a game changer for those docs that gain Academy qualification via the International Documentary Association’s DocuWeeks program. One of the 2011 DocuWeeks titles, “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” is on this year’s list of 15 qualifying nominees. “Semper Fi” is currently slated for digital distribution through New Video.”

The New York Times pointed out that a draft of the proposed rule as seen by the paper did not specify whether the review had to be included in a print edition, or might run only online. It also did not specify length, or distinguish between the sort of capsule review, which sometimes introduces festival films, and a more elaborate piece of criticism. But reviews by television critics were specifically ruled out.

After the news broke filmmaker Michael Moore, who is on the 43-member Board of Governors as one of three people who represent the documentary branch, told Indiewire he proposed the rule changes and saw them passed unanimously by the documentary branch’s executive committee. Moore said he expects the new rules to cut the documentary submissions by roughly 50%.  

The new rules as stated by Moore in the article are as follows:

  • Only those documentaries that receive a commercial, one-week release in New York and Los Angeles, and were reviewed by the New York Times and/or the Los Angeles Times, qualify for Oscar consideration.
  • If the New York Times changes its policy, which now requires reviewing all films that receive a one-week theatrical release in New York, the Academy will change its policy.
  • Films that received a one-week commercial release, but were somehow not reviewed, may appeal to the Academy for consideration.
  • The Academy will send screeners, or make films available online, to documentary branch members on a quarterly basis. (Theatrically released docs will be encouraged to apply for Academy consideration throughout the year.)
  • The Academy documentary shortlist, and later the five nominees, will be determined by a vote of the full documentary branch.
  • The full Academy will vote for best documentary.

Looking at the current shortlist of eligible movies, reviews required as per the new rules could not be found. This is the case for The Loving Story, Semper Fi: Always Faithful, and the Harry Belafonte biography Sing Your Song.

 

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Alexandra Zeevalkink is a Dutch-born journalist living in London who founded DocGeeks in August 2011 in order to have a legitimate excuse to watch every documentary under the sun. She freelances for various publications and writes mainly about documentary films, art projects and social inequalities. When she is not blogging or watching films she enjoys theater, photography and reading loads of books. She is always on the look out for potential partnerships with other creative minds.

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