MUMBAI: Respond to long-standing criticisms of its feature documentary selection process, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has issued a new set of rules affecting the eligibility of documentaries that will compete for the 85th Academy Awards next year.
The new documentary rules will open up the first round of voting in the documentary category to the full 157 members of the documentary branch. Under the current system, a shortlist of eligible films had first been determined by a vote of smaller committees drawn from the documentary branch.
Another major change in the category are: Features that hope to qualify must play seven-day qualifying runs in both New York and Los Angeles akin to the current rules but they must also be reviewed by either The New York Times or The Los Angeles Times.
To facilitate the change in the first round of voting, filmmakers will be required to submit 200 DVDs, an increase over the 30 DVDs that currently are required. In the final round of voting, Academy members must see all the nominated films, but under the new rules they will be allowed to view them digitally or on DVD, which should make it easier for more members to participate, since previously the films had to be seen either in commercial theaters or at Academy screenings.
Under the current system, some documentaries have been screened below the radar in locations such as Encino or Long Island in hopes of qualifying without attracting media attention, either because they were headed to a broadcast setting like HBO or because their actual theatrical release was scheduled for a later date to take advantage of the publicity that comes with nominations.
The review requirement is designed to limit the number of qualifying documentaries to films with real theatrical life as opposed to the much larger number of films that are primarily designed to play online or on TV and might make only token appearances in theaters.
The documentary branch’s selection practices drew new criticism this year when high-profile documentaries like Steve James’ The Interrupters, Werner Herzog’s Into the Abyss, Errol Morris’ Tabloid and Asif Kapadia’s Senna failed to make the shortlist of 15 documentaries from which five best-picture nominees will be drawn.
The new rules, however, will allow more Academy members to take part in the initial voting, which could result in movies with broader appeal making the cut.