The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences recently opened up first-round Oscar voting to the entire documentary branch and abandoned the previous system of allowing a small committee to determine the short list of eligible films. This radically curtails the influence of the documentary branch governors. Interesting, because last month an accusation of political bias in the documentary branch was lodged against the Academy – specifically, in an April 16th letter from Gerald Molen who produced the controversial right-wing documentary 2016: Obama’s America (as well as the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List). Molen’s missive was sent to Academy President Hawk Koch and documentary branch governors Rob Epstein, Michael Apted, and Michael Moore who is also a member of the AMPAS Board Of Governors. Molen questions why 2016: Obama’s America was ignored for an Academy Award nomination even though it was last year’s second highest grossing political documentary (behind only Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.) Molen wrote:
“I find myself wondering if it was excluded for ‘other’ reasons…”
“I have tremendous respect for Michael Apted as a creative and talented filmmaker but putting him with Rob Epstein and Michael Moore as the gatekeepers in charge of which films get nominated in the documentary category seems patently absurd…
“While Mr. Moore is a distinguished filmmaker, he holds a strong partisan view representing what Gallup tells us is only 21 percent of the population. Even if he were able to keep his personal philosophy out of the equation, you can certainly understand why the larger American constituency (pegged at 40%) would question the exclusion of a well-made and popular film that fails to reflect his views. Even if only in perception, this assumed bias will serve (in my opinion) only to injure the Academy…
“All up and coming filmmakers deserve to be recognized for their creative sensibilities and should not be punished because the messages of their films fail to fit the dogma of what some believe is politically correct.”
Hawk replied on behalf of the Academy:
We’ve discussed your letter and the concerns you raise. First of all, I want to assure you that 2016: Obama’s America was treated the same as all the other 125 films that were submitted in the Feature Documentary category for the most recent Academy Awards. Your film definitely received consideration and it was not ignored. It merely didn’t get the votes it needed to move onto the short list.
It’s up to each one of the 172 members of the Documentary branch to evaluate the entries and make their own, independent judgments about which ones reflect the strongest achievements of the year. Inevitably, every year there are strong films that do not advance to the short list and a nomination.
While box office success is most assuredly an important measure of a film’s success in our industry, in my opinion it shouldn’t factor into our thinking as individual Academy members when we evaluate films for Oscar consideration.
Under the new documentary nominating Oscar rules, a vote of the full branch produces a short list of 15 films, then a second round of balloting narrows it down to the five nominees.