The Academy Awards’ Restrictive New Documentary Qualifying Requirements

The requirement that after this year’s ceremonies, to qualify to be nominated for an Academy Award, documentaries must both screen in Los Angeles or New York and be reviewed by a theatrical reviewer by the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times are obviously wildly restricted. But this is downright puzzling:

According to Academy COO Ric Robertson, the new requirement is a further step in eliminating docs that have no real intention of gaining distribution or having a legitimate theatrical run. A common practice in recent years has been for faux theatrical docs (and even some animated feature and VOD entries) to attempt to skirt the rules by quietly ”four walling” a qualifying run on an obscure screen — often on the outskirts of the city. In some cases, it is the last movie screen these movies play on their way to TV. The new rule will confirm the credibility of a legitimate contender by requiring a movie (not TV) review, tied to the opening of the film, in one of those two major newspapers. Trade reviews out of a film festival would not meet the requirement.

Perhaps someone can enlighten me, but it seems pretty strange that someone would go to the work of making a documentary without hoping that it’ll find distribution and a home in theaters however brief the run and however long the shot. Is there some sort of epidemic of people making Bowfinger-like documentary productions, or fooling people into participating only to get their hopes up and crush them? That seems…strange. And the end result will be super-vindictive to movies that are struggling to find distribution that might well be worthy. The movie business is not precisely what I’d call a meritocracy. And increasing the link between awards and commercialism is a less-than-inspiring prospect.