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Oscar Doc Rules Revised (Mostly) to Help Truly Indies

Oscar Doc Rules Revised (Mostly) to Help Truly Indies

In the current issue of Filmmaker Magazine, hittings stands soon, I wrote up an investigative piece on the many problems for documentary filmmakers seeking Oscar qualification under this year’s guidelines, from expensive film and digital prints to a multi-city roll-out that could cost tens of thousands of dollars. But as Karina Longworth broke the news today on her Spout blog, AMPAS has rescinded its draconian regulations and made it much easier for docs to qualify. Read the press release here. I guess all that muckraking, kvetching, blogging and general snark actually convinced the AMPAS governors to change their minds.

In a surprising statement from Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis, he acknowledged the onerous practice of demanding 35mm prints from filmmakers caused hardship for indie filmmakers. “There just wasn’t time to wait for film prints to be struck after the nominations announcement, so shortlisted filmmakers were on the hook for the cost of prints whether their films were nominated or not,” he admitted. “We can now present digital formats in all the theaters where we hold membership screenings, so documentarians need not spend the extra money.”

What was not stated, however, was the type of digital format necessary. If it’s the same digital specs required in the past (23.98i) for the one-week qualifying run, it often costs filmmakers an extra $8,000-$10,000 for the up-res.

For the Filmmaker Magazine article, IDA Executive Director Sandra Ruch complained this specific digital requirement was not only costly for filmmakers, but prohibitive because movie theaters that show docs don’t have projectors suited to the format. “So we have to bring in our own equipment to great expense,” she says, putting the price tag of the machines at $16,000.

“It’s an unrealistic standard,” Film Forum programmer Mike Maggiore told me. “And an unnecessary expense that seems out of touch with the way in which the majority of documentaries are shown digitally in theaters.”

Ira Deutchman, whose Emerging Pictures theater chain has helped qualify at least one feature doc “The Cats of Mirikitani,” went so far as to call the tech specifications “so ludicrous that it doesn’t make sense.”

Oh well. At least it’s a step in the right direction. Baby steps, baby steps.

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Rod Amis

You raise a number of good points about the irrationality of the system and how the bar seems to be placed extremely high for Indy documentarians to even qualify.

A case in point is Alex LeMay’s Desert Bayou is opening in LA on October 26th, at the Laemmle Sunset 5, with director Alex LeMay doing Q&A sessions after the film at 7:30pm on the 26th and 27th.

“Alex LeMay’s Desert Bayou makes a fitting sequel to Spike Lee’s opus When the Levees Broke,” writes Lisa Katzman of the Village Voice. “The film opens by reprising the indelible and shameful tableaux of horrors that unspooled in the days following Hurricane Katrina, but then quickly moves on to depict the plight of several African-American evacuees.”‘

Sean Flynn

I think the main problem now is the arbitary August 31 deadline… if they pushed that back to a reasonable date, filmmakers could still have their premieres at Toronto or NYFF or do a Sept/Oct theatrical run, and it would eliminate all the need for these superfluous late-August undercover qualifying runs.

AJ Schnack

I posted this in response to your comments on my blog, but here again are my thoughts on the digital requirement:

Personally, I think that the requirement for digital projection is antiquated, however, I do agree that there must be some standard in place. I would certainly think that whatever the Film Forum, the IFC Center, the Quad or the Cinema Village do in the least of their theatres should be enough for the Academy.

The larger issue for me remains that I think it should be part of an actual theatrical and not an undercover, tell-no-one qualifying run. That’s why I think filmmakers in LA and NYC should have to make their films available for review. Thom Powers disagrees (and I’m sure others do as well) but I still think your Academy qualifying and your theatrical run should be part of the same release.

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