Docu Nominees Deserve Better Treatment

As a Chinese American and the daughter of immigrants, I appear to have achieved the American Dream, if, as Kenneth Turan insinuates, I am a part of the Old Boy's Network as a "crony" of the "Tammany Hall" of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (" 'Hoop,' 'Red' Expose Holes in Academy Categories," Calendar, Feb. 15).

I believe the Oscar nomination for my recently completed feature documentary "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision" has more to do with the merit of my work as a two-time Oscar nominee ("Rose Kennedy," "To Live or Let Die") and prime-time Emmy winner ("Lillian Gish: An Actor's Life for Me") than with any association with the nether world he suggests.

To set the record straight, I am not a member of the academy's documentary screening committee. I am not its chair this year. The producer Walter Shenson heads it. I did not vote in the documentary nominating process this year. Twice asked to serve by the academy president, I chaired the documentary committee in the 1992 and 1993 academy years, and was preceded by writer Norman Corwin who served as chair for 35 years. I have been accused of being a liberal, a feminist and an activist but never a "crony" until now.

Turan's ire toward the committee seems to have blinded him to some important realities of the nominating process. As an astute and responsible critic, he must know that the committee:

1) Has nominated some of the most acclaimed documentaries of the last decades, films such as "The Times of Harvey Milk," "Children of Fate," "Berkeley in the '60s," "Eyes on the Prize," "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing," "Harlan County USA," "From Mao to Mozart," "Woodstock," "Hearts and Minds," "Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie."

2) Has nominated provocative, cutting-edge documentaries, such as "Let's Get Lost," "Panama Deception," "Building Bombs," "Deadly Deception," "Streetwise"--not as he says, only "safe" films.

3) Is composed of filmmakers from age 30-something through the 80s, who include working Oscar-winning editors, actors, writers, directors and documentarians who make up more than one-third of the group, and who are independent-minded, rather than "small-minded," and who vote individually in a secret ballot, a one-man, one-vote concept. The members see 60 to 70 films that qualify for nomination, compared to the handful most critics see, and can nominate only five out of a highly competitive field.

Finally, as an academy observer, surely Turan must know, despite his many mistaken references to it, that there is no "documentary branch." The academy's 12 branches are organized along craft lines--editing, writing, music, directing, sound, etc. He must know that documentary is not a craft but a type of motion picture that is created from the many crafts of filmmaking; that best documentary feature is the nonfiction counterpart of best foreign-language picture and best picture, and that for these best picture awards, nominating members come from all 12 branches, drawing upon their understanding of the totality of the motion picture art and craft.

The academy choices are a part of the very diversity we celebrate; in this case, the array of film awards. There are the People's Choice, the Golden Globe choices, the many film festival choices, the Directors Guild choices, the International Documentary Assn. choices, and the film critics' choices. Academy members don't begrudge the critics their choices. Why don't critics respect the right of the academy members to make their choices and not badger them with their disappointments?

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