Academy adopts new rules for Oscar documentaries


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In an effort to both pare down the number of documentaries eligible for Oscar consideration and increase the involvement of the entire 157-member documentary branch, the academy’s documentary branch has adopted new rules for the 2013 ceremony.

According to Rob Epstein, chair of the documentary branch executive committee, a documentary will be eligible for Oscar consideration only if it has been reviewed in either the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times. And rather than limit the nominating process to the committees within the documentary branch, now all 157 members of the branch will participate in the initial process, with the entire Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership (about 5,700 members) eligible to vote on the winner after seeing the film on a screener -- a specially provided DVD copy. (The previous policy allowed only the documentary branch to vote on best documentary and only if the voter saw the film in a theater.)


The rules apply to films released in 2012, which will be honored in 2013.

‘The mission of the Academy is to honor motion pictures intended for theaters,’ Epstein said in an email. ‘Over the past two years, the documentary branch has experienced a vast increase in the number of non-theatrical documentaries, specifically, films that will not have real theatrical distribution but are merely running in a theater for one week in order to qualify for Academy consideration.’

The newspaper review component is supposed to ensure that the film is receiving a legitimate theatrical run. In general, the L.A. Times reviews documentaries that do receive a one-week run (in similar fashion to the N.Y. Times), but there have been some exceptions -- in the past, films that have played as part of the International Documentary Assn.’s annual DocuWeeks festival have not received an L.A. Times review during that run.

With a proliferation of eligible documentaries in the last two years due to the advancement of digital technology, the new process is intended to make the selection process more manageable. But some filmmakers are concerned that the changes could hurt smaller, less commercial documentaries, such as those in DocuWeeks, which often exhibits films that have not landed commercial theatrical distribution.


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-- Nicole Sperling

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.