A controversial new amendment by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is raising some red flags with documentary filmmakers. The Academy announced that only documentaries reviewed by either The Los Angeles Times or The New York Times would be eligible for an Oscar nomination. Many filmmakers have criticized the change, arguing that the new rule unfairly favors films with high budgets and elite PR teams.
The Academy says that the change to the rules is meant to counteract the growing trend of entries circumventing the existing regulations. Currently, the rules state that to be considered in the documentary category, a film must show for at least one week in a theater, but some feel that studios can easily arrange a limited screening run to ensure their film's inclusion.
Martin Scorsese's George Harrison documentary was intended primarily for HBO's cable channel, but enjoyed a week-long screening to qualify for the Oscar. The adjustments are believed to curb such a nomination, but others see more problems than solutions.
"The changes do not address the key problem, which is 99% of the documentaries being made are not released in theaters. So tightening up the rules for theatrical release just highlights the issue all the more," two-time Oscar nominee Lawrence Hott, told The Los Angeles Times. "I would prefer to see the academy figure out a way to get rid of the theatrical requirement and recognize that the distinction between theatrical and non-theatrical for documentaries is a phony one and makes no sense in the modern world of documentary production."
The new rules, which would come into effect for the 2013 season, could entirely snub entries that get considered through alternative means. DocuWeeks, a program that allows filmmakers to pay a fee in exchange for potentially qualifying screenings in New York and Los Angeles, rarely find their entries reviewed in either publication. Outspoken critics are declaring that the new rules will cause the category to lean towards films with more money to throw around for PR.
"This new requirement favors wealthy filmmakers. It weights the scales toward people with money and with connections to reviewers," said Victoria Mudd, former member of the academy's documentary executive committee and winner of the documentary Oscar for 1985's "Broken Rainbow," told The Los Angeles Times. She continues, "I think it puts too much power in publicists and critics."