Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

The Spoils: Does DOC NYC's Short List Program Help or Hinder Academy Voting on Documentaries?

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire November 14, 2012 at 10:53AM

New York City’s DOC NYC Festival comes to a close Thursday, and woven in among the films in the official program are ten movies highlighted with an unmistakable wink to the Academy: they are part of a sidebar called The Short List. And while Thom Powers, head programmer for DOC NYC, slyly denies any such bias or prognostication, he also knows that he’s doing Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members a huge service.
2
Searching For Sugar Man

New York City’s DOC NYC Festival comes to a close Thursday, and woven in among the films in the official program are ten movies highlighted with an unmistakable wink to the Academy: they are part of a sidebar called The Short List. And while Thom Powers, head programmer for DOC NYC, slyly denies any such bias or prognostication, he also knows that he’s doing Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members a huge service.

When the documentary committee of the Academy changed its rules earlier this year in a way that requires members to consider (or even watch) the entire list of 130-plus qualified docs before voting, the groan could be heard from Malibu to Nova Scotia. Even prime mover Michael Moore has had second thoughts. That decision’s effects continue to ripple outward, and Powers and his crew — including senior programmers and DOC NYC executive director Raphaela Neihausen— see the Short List as a way to do their part both for the beleaguered AMPAS members and for the filmmakers.

READ MORE: The Spoils: Could Oscar Award the Pig Tricks and Swamp-Rat Magic of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'?

“That certainly emboldened us,” says Powers. “It felt even more pertinent this year, viz a viz the Oscars because of the new Academy voting rules that depend upon documentary branch members taking a look at all the documentaries that came out this year. We wanted to take time to shine a spotlight on 10 that we thought nobody should miss.”

Mea Maxima 3 Walsh

So along with works from high-profile filmmakers such as Alex Gibney (“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”) and Rory Kennedy (“Ethel”), and those with news-hot subjects such as Bart Layton’s “The Imposter” and Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis,” the Short List also features lesser-known docs such as Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi’s “5 Broken Cameras” and Bess Kargman’s “First Position.” Powers has had history with many of the films already, curating “The Imposter” at the Miami film festival and “First Position” at Toronto. Since it launched in March, Powers has also programmed SundanceNOW's subscription VOD Doc Club program, which is sponsoring the DOC NYC audience award this year and gives the chosen movies a national audience.

READ MORE: The Spoils: Why the Filmmakers Behind 'Chasing Ice' Should Chase Sean Hannity as Much as Oscar

Additionally, the Short List, now in its second year, was expanded from four films to 10, and Academy members have been invited to attend for free, as long as they flash their AMPAS cards. The hope is that they’ll take advantage of DOC NYC’s experienced programmers signposting the best of the bunch — even if the chosen ten aren’t meant to be definitive.

“I wouldn’t say that these 10 out of the 100-plus that are qualified are the most important 10,” says Powers. “I would rephrase the statement as: These are 10 of the most important to pay attention to. I could have credibly done a list of 30 that I could strongly get behind. But I have limits to what I can program. There is certainly no snub meant to any film that’s not on this list.”

The truth is that it’s debatable whether all the films included in the Short List this year really need the help — Gibney, Kennedy and Berg all have sizable reputations already, as does Joe Berlinger, whose “Under African Skies” also made the cut. Academy members could credibly check those names on the ballot even without seeing the films, even if the DOC NYC sidebar means they don’t have to.

READ MORE: The Spoils: To Sell Nicholas Jarecki's 'Arbitrage' to Awards Voters, Backing Richard Gere Is a Smart Investment

First Position

The festival’s closing-night film, Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon’s “The Central Park Five,” will screen Thursday at the SVA Theatre. All five subjects from Burns’ film will be together at the screening for a Q&A for the first time since their arraignment, and with that kind of pedigree and a public fight going on between New York State and the filmmakers over custody of their interviews and records, “Central Park Five” doesn’t really need the extra attention. Like some of the others — Alison Klayman’s “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” David France’s “How to Survive a Plague” and Malik Bendjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” round out the Short List — “Central Park Five” is close to a sure thing in terms of Oscar nominations.

So in a sense, the Short List is merely taking on the filtering job that the Academy used to do itself. And in the larger entertainment context, outside of awards considerations, only a misguided curmudgeon would argue that docs don’t deserve all the help they can get.

“What I have observed over the years is that filmmakers — none of whom are getting rich off this — when they get close to awards consideration often wind up having to fork out more money to rent screening rooms or hire publicists,” says Powers. “They wind up having to spend more money just to keep their film visible. So what I want to do is give them a free opportunity, give them a screening room and promote it to boot.”

Sign up HERE for Indiewire's Awards Season newsletter and receive a twice-weekly email roundup of our awards stories, hand-picked by our editors from across the Indiewire Network, plus additional coverage in the final run up to the Oscars.

This article is related to: The Spoils, The Central Park Five, Searching for Sugar Man, First Position, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, West of Memphis, Ethel, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, How to Survive a Plague, The Imposter, 5 Broken Cameras, Awards, Academy Awards, Documentary






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

Most Read



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More