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Oscar Winner Deborah Shaffer Statement on Oscar Docu Short List Omissions

Oscar Winner Deborah Shaffer Statement on Oscar Docu Short List Omissions

Deborah is a dear friend, family and business, for many years.
She is a lifelong dedicated documentary filmmaker, one of our best. Her docu Oscar and Emmy awards attest to the talent and dedication.
Recently she has been discussing with me what she feels are the current shortcomings in this year’s nominating Documentary Oscar process and especially the
recently published ‘short list’ by the Academy.

We are very interested in hearing your feedback or comments on this
issue which is NOT likely to be discussed or raised in any other forum
but which we consider VERY important!!

Following is her statement on the present situation and the omission of certain very important titles from the AMPAS ‘short list’ of this year’s
documentaries..
by Deborah Shaffer

As an Academy Award-winning documentary director and member of the doc
branch of AMPAS, I was the lucky recipient of all 149 qualified
documentaries in
2013. It has certainly been one of the more bountiful and exciting
years ever. I wish that, as with fiction features, we had the option to
nominate up to
10 titles. There are certainly enough excellent, strong candidates
to fill a slate of 10. But there is something about this year’s short
list that has made
me sad and disappointed and I don’t know whether the fault lies in
the process or the end result, but it’s certainly the latter where it
shows up.

Among
the qualified films this year were an incredibly strong number of
docs on African American history and culture, including Let the Fire
Burn
, The Trials of
Muhammad Al
i, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Gideon’s
Army
, The New Black, and American Promise. NOT ONE OF THESE FILMS IS ON
THE SHORT LIST
despite having been recognized at numerous other festivals and year
end award events. It suggests a distressing pattern of oversight, and
even more
disappointing since 4 of the above films were directed by Black
women.

I don’t have any quick or easy solutions about how to address this. We are all
bemoaning the nearly impossible burden of watching approximately 150 documentaries, yet I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the bad old committee
system. Certainly continuing the trend to diversifying the branch membership across gender, age, and race should help. Personally I would also like to see
a system where fewer films qualify, making it more possible for more members to screen those docs that do make it through the gate.

As it stands now,
anyone with enough money to four wall a theatrical opening in New York and LA can meet the qualifications, essentially buying their way into the Oscar
pool. There should be a way to close this loophole, which I estimate would cut the numbers by at least one third to one half. Our field has grown so much
in recent years, and the overall quality of the films that have made it to the short list is staggeringly high. We need to find a way to make sure we
reward the best, and not just the best known.

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