Monday, February 15, 2010

The Academy Awards' unending list of rules

With all the angst over the Academy Awards' selection process in the documentary film category, I found it interesting how few people actually know the rules set in place. Thanks to a hilarious article posted in the New York Times, I was able to find a link to the Academy's legal speak outline.

And wouldn't you know it, there is quite a lengthy list of do's and don'ts- we're talking more regulations than a fringe religion. It's obviously not the most entertaining read in the world (legal documents = bleh), but it's worth browsing if you are curious as to why certain films qualify while others don't. Of note is the odd requirement that any Academy member wishing to weigh in on the process watch the film in theaters and only in theaters (DVDs, screeners, etc do not count). Also of interest is the demand to prevent documentaries from airing on TV or online until 60 days after it's theatrical run (which, by the way, has to include a week's stint in New York and LA).

These rules are understandable when you consider the sheer number of possibilities in a grassroots heavy field like documentaries, but they also force filmmakers to choose between critical or commercial success. Let's face it, most documentaries aren't meant for the theatrical crowd and with limited finances, relying on Internet and television powers to distribute their product is practically essential (plus a week's run time in two cities is hardly enough time for the entire voting Academy to see a film).

Because of these rules Ken Burns hasn't been nominated for a documentary since the mid 1980s. Similarly, ESPN's recent string of sports films all failed to qualify despite their collection of top notch directors and monumental critical success.

There is a need for the filter, but clearly it's keeping good films from being recognized. But now you know my brief thoughts on the subject, what's your opinion? Read the rules and post below!

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