The Square, a harrowing documentary about the Egyptian revolution as seen through the eyes of six of its participants, was Oscar-nominated in the 2013 Best Feature Documentary race. So how come it is suddenly a major contender at the Emmys too? Inquiries have come to our attention, including one calling for its withdrawal from Emmy competition, so I decided to check it out.
The film, which accounts for four of the impressive 31 Emmy nominations Netflix received this year, was picked up by the streaming service and qualified last year for the Oscar race with a seven-day run, according to the Television Academy, which has assured me they thoroughly examined this one. “The Square was not in general release prior to it TV appearance; rather, it qualified for the Oscars under the ‘one week NY-LA limited screening rule’ which would not have affected Emmy eligibility. Please know that we and the documentary peer group vetted the hell out of this one, and it’s good to Emmy go,” according to John Leverence, SVP Awards for the TV Academy.
Indeed, TV Academy rules clearly state that although television programs offered for general theatrical exhibition prior to their airing or Internet debut are not eligible, this one falls (pardon the pun) squarely into legitimate Emmy territory because there is an exception that states “General theatrical release shall not include (A) exhibitions made for purposes of fulfilling award requirements (e.g. festival awards, the Oscars) if such exhibition occurs in limited theatrical release of not more than 7 days in not more than 2 cities and/or (B) exhibitions made for the purpose of meeting ‘theatrical prerelease’ requirements of a motion picture distributor or financier if theatrical exhibitions prior to the airing or internet exhibition of the television program does not exceed 7 days in not more than 10 U.S. cities.” Of course, the reverse is definitely not true and films that premiere in any kind of TV format before qualifying for Oscars theatrically are ineligible to compete for Academy Awards. In fact, the Documentary Branch of the Academy just tightened those rules again this year requiring contenders to qualify by having a one-week theatrical engagement that includes at least four showtimes daily including a primetime slot.
Jehane Noujaim’s docu was picked up by Netflix at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and then went through changes before a new cut was unveiled later that year at the Toronto Film Festival and then qualified for Oscars. It lost to Twenty Feet From Stardom but stands a good chance at the August 16th Creative Arts Emmy ceremony where it is competing for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special against PBS’ JFK, OWN’s Running From Crazy, CNN’s The Sixties: The Assassination Of President Kennedy, and HBO’s pair of Paycheck To Paycheck: The Life And Times Of Katrina Gilbert and Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley. It’s also up for Cinematography, Editing and Directing Emmys.
Oscar nominees and even winners from both the feature and shorts categories slumming at the Emmys is not a new thing and occurs practically every year in one Emmy contest or another — especially the News and Documentary categories. Going as far back as 1979 for an example, Arnold Shapiro won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year for Scared Straight. In 2012, 5 Broken Cameras was a Documentary Feature Oscar nominee and an International Emmy winner. A year earlier, HBO’s Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was both an Oscar and Emmy nominee. More recently in 2013 alone there were several titles that had Oscar and Emmy eligibility in common including Semper Fi: Always Faithful, The Loving Story and We Were Here among others (though they were 2011 finalists they didn’t land Oscar nominations). Saving Face, the 2012 Oscar docu short winner, also won an Emmy the next year. The correlation between the groups is fairly strong as long as rules are followed.
And in the case of The Square, all parties swear those “rules” were followed. Netflix is certainly hoping that this time their pet documentary project lands in the winners’ circle.