Once again, as we near closer to another Academy Awards ceremony, people are asking the same old question: do the Oscars still matter? It’s a silly question by itself, because we must consider whether they’ve ever mattered, and if so to what extent. To address the debate in full would take a lot of thought and a tremendous amount of words. Fortunately for my sanity this column is specific to documentaries — not that focusing on the Academy’s treatment of nonfiction films is anything but one of the most complicated topics associated with the Oscars.
The discussion has been especially heated this year following the snubbing of Steve James’ "The Interrupters," one of the most acclaimed docs of 2011, and the subsequent — yet not directly related — announcement of changes to the nomination process for the Documentary Feature category (for which Academy doc branch representatives Michael Moore, Michael Apted and Rob Epstein recently provided a handy FAQ to help us understand). Last month, the Academy Awards was the talk of the Cinema Eye Honors, which I found disappointing given that the Cinema Eye Honors exist in part so we doc fans don’t have to be so concerned with the Academy Awards.
At that event I found myself arguing with people about the significance of the Oscars for documentaries in this day and age. Most of the people, particularly the non-doc-obsessed, I know discovering great nonfiction films do so through streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu and either the recommendation components of these services or from social media acquaintances or via an increasing acknowledgment of docs on the various movie blogs and websites (including Movies.com) around the Internet. A lot of what’s watched and what’s popular is unrelated to what wins awards, including Oscars.
Continue reading this column at Movies.com.