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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 But as Karina Longworth broke the news today on her Spout blog, AMPAS has rescinded its draconian regulations and made it much easier for docs to qualify.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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