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IDA and Quad Cinema, Two Four-Walling Oscar Qualifiers, Respond to Oscar Doc Rule Change

Photo of Bryce J. Renninger By Bryce J. Renninger | feelingsoblahg.blogspot.com January 10, 2012 at 1:43PM

In a statement released today, the International Documentary Association acknowledged that the Academy's new documentary rules will have an impact on the IDA's long-running DocuWeeks program and that some rules "seem to favor the well-funded films as well as the better-known filmmakers."
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"The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan"

In a statement released today, the International Documentary Association acknowledged that the Academy's new documentary rules will have an impact on the IDA's long-running DocuWeeks program and that some rules "seem to favor the well-funded films as well as the better-known filmmakers." 

Separately, New York's Quad Cinema president Elliott Kanbar said that theater's four-walling option (more information available at a dedicated site) was used by 11 films in 2011, and each one of them got a New York Times review.

The IDA also defended the value of its DocuWeeks program, which costs $14,000 to $20,000 depending on the length of the film and the format.  The IDA also noted that though DocuWeeks is an option to four-wall (that is, pay for your exhibition without the help of a distributor), it does curate from a long list of the films that submit to DocuWeeks.

The new Oscar rule, which stipulates that the New York Times or the LA Times review a film in order for it to qualify for the Best Documentary Oscar, would affect all but four of the 16 features that screened at DocuWeeks. Of the four films that were reviewed by the NY Times or LA Times, only one ("The Boy Mir") was timed to DocuWeeks; the other three films ("Being Elmo," "Hell and Back Again," "To Be Heard") received reviews in the publications during their separate theatrical releases. One of the films on the Oscar shortlist ("Semper Fi") qualified for the Oscar at DocuWeeks, but did not receive a New York Times or LA Times review.

IDA mentions in their press release that they will be consulting with the LA Times and New York Times editorial staff to find out what can be done to ensure more DocuWeeks films can get reviews.

"Your chances of winning the Oscar without a review are slim under any system," Kanbar told Indiewire. "I always felt that if you're gonna run a film in a well-regarded theater in the Quad, get your film reviewed, so I've included a publicist with our Oscar package."

Depending on the length of the film and whether or not the film can share a screen with other films, the Quad packages costs from $7,000 to $18,000.

Both programs, in 2011, included an ad, but DocuWeeks did not provide a publicist for the individual films.

Peter Knegt and Austin Dale contributed to this article.

The International Documentary Association's statement is reprinted below:

LOS ANGELES, January 10, 2012–The International Documentary Association applauds the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for striving to make their selection process for documentary films more transparent and democratic. As an organization that has been presenting awards to documentary films for 27 years, IDA has frequently reevaluated its awards criteria and selection process for the same reasons and made a number of changes over the last three years in hopes of creating the most thorough and inclusive procedure possible to effectively recognize the art of nonfiction storytelling.

Since news of the Academy’s changes broke on Sunday, many online discussions have referenced IDA’s DocuWeeks program as a way documentary filmmakers can qualify their films for an Academy Award. A number of things said and inferred about DocuWeeks need to be corrected:

• For the past 15 years DocuWeeks has screened documentary features and shorts in theatrical runs, qualifying these films for Academy Award consideration and adapting its program yearly to revised Academy rules. Each year, we follow the Academy’s rules to the letter and present films in theatrical runs precisely as defined by the Academy. In 15 years, 186 films have qualified for Academy consideration through DocuWeeks.

• DocuWeeks is presented by IDA as a valuable service to the international documentary filmmaking community. This is reflected in the number of entries received to the program each year. DocuWeeks is a curated program. Films cannot participate in DocuWeeks by just paying a fee. In 2011 86 feature documentaries were submitted to IDA for consideration. Of those, 17 features were selected to be part of the program. Selection is made through a 12-person screening committee watching and discussing entries over a six-week period. Our films are thoughtfully considered and chosen to represent the best of the submissions across a diverse range of films.

• In 2011 the cost to participate in DocuWeeks as a feature was between $14,000 and $20,000, depending on format and running time. This fee covered the costs of the theatrical runs in both New York and Los Angeles as well as the paid advertising in designated print publications as required by the Academy. These fees are comparable to what a filmmaker would spend for a four-wall run to qualify or a service deal with a traditional distributor for qualifying. Many films participating in DocuWeeks choose to spend additional funds on publicists, travel, additional advertising, etc. Our films play in mainstream theaters in Los Angeles and New York, and are not hidden screenings for the purposes of qualification alone. We actively court press for our filmmakers, and celebrate their films with events and discussions during the duration of the program.

• Since 1997, 17 documentaries qualified through DocuWeeks have been nominated for the Oscar® and 7 have won the coveted award. These 7 represent over 25% of the Oscars® presented to documentaries over the past twelve years. DocuWeeks-qualified films that have received the Oscar® include Smile Pinki (2008), Taxi To The Dark Side (2007), The Blood of Yingzhou District (2006), Born into Brothels (2004), Chernobyl Heart (2003), The Personals (1998) and The Last Days (1998).

The Academy’s new rules will certainly have an impact on IDA’s DocuWeeks program. IDA will be evaluating that impact over the coming weeks and asking for further information and clarification from the Academy as well as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times editorial staffs.

Nonetheless, it appears the landscape for documentaries vying for the Oscar will be significantly changed by the new rules proposed by the Academy. Some seem to favor the well-funded films as well as the better-known filmmakers, but as with any new system the real test will be implementing these rules in 2012. In the meantime, 2012 will also see the celebration of the 28th Annual International Documentary Awards, focused exclusively on the documentary form, and rewarding many exceptional films and filmmakers, some of who would qualify for Academy consideration alongside many who would not. It is our goal to find and recognize the very best in the documentary form worldwide, and we pride ourselves on the number of international films that are nominated and recognized by the IDA each year. Documentaries are not a branch of what we do, they are all that we do.