Finally, the entire academy will vote on the final Oscar winner — putting nonfiction films in the same realm as the movies that compete for Best Picture.
(Qualifying films still must play for at least one week in Manhattan and Los Angeles, accompanied by ad campaigns in the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Village Voice or L.A. Weekly.)
Nearly every year, the academy has tweaked and refined the rule governing documentary submissions, often following outcries about an opaque and labyrinthine selection process that results in newsworthy omissions. But this year’s modifications are different, having been suggested by academy governor and filmmaker Michael Moore, whose 1989 film “Roger & Me” was notoriously snubbed by the academy, along with Errol Morris’s “The Thin Blue Line,” Steve James’s “Hoop Dreams” and Terry Zwigoff’s “Crumb,” among several others. (This year’s most talked-about oversights were the highly regarded films “Senna” and “The Interrupters.”)
In many quarters, Moore’s changes have been met with enthusiasm by filmmakers and fans who have long lamented the Oscar branch’s unwieldy structure and arcane guidelines, which made it difficult to screen the large number of entries (124 films qualified for consideration in 2011).
The process was so time-consuming and inconvenient that, historically, only retirees had the time to commit to it, resulting in nominees and winners that were often deemed too safe, too conventional and, as documentaries began achieving purchase in the marketplace, woefully out of step with audiences.
“Tightening the definition of what a theatrical film is will also help this other part of the process, where the whole branch is obligated to look at all the entries,” said Ric Robertson, chief operating officer of the Academy. “Hopefully . . . that 124 number goes down, making it more workable for our branch members, too.”
But if streamlining the viewing and voting processes bodes well, plenty of nonfiction filmmakers expressed concern — if not outrage — at the rule requiring a New York Times or L.A. Times review, noting that films such as “Semper Fi: Always Faithful,” which is on this year’s short list, would not have qualified (the film played at the Silverdocs documentary festival in 2011).