The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced new rules for the upcoming 90th Annual Academy Awards and one significant change in eligibility for Best Documentary Feature. The new docu rules might have had a major impact on the 2016 race — in particular for O.J.: Made in America, the ESPN-produced, 7 1/2-hour docu that brought filmmaker Ezra Edelman the Oscar.
The new rules state that “multi-part or limited series are not eligible for awards consideration” and that any questions in this regard will be resolved by the Documentary Branch Executive Committee. Since O.J. was presented as a multi-part limited series beginning on ABC and continuing on ESPN, this new rule seems aimed at that kind of entry. The docu qualified because it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and later in qualifying limited theatrical runs in which all seven-plus hours were presented as a single feature. The film was controversial in that regard since some felt it was really a limited series masquerading as a feature documentary. At least one Oscar-winning documentarian and Academy branch governor with whom I spoke during awards season felt this was unfair and that the rule should be changed, or at least clarified, to make sure films eligible are genuine theatrical features. With today’s new rule, that appears to have been done. O.J.: Made in America now is moving on to the Emmys and likely will be classified as a docuseries, rather than single film when those nominations are announced in July.
In other Oscar rule changes, the Academy announced that voting in the Animated Feature category will be opened to the entire eligible voting membership for the first time, with invitations going out to the whole Academy to join the nominating committee rather than “a select craft-based group.” Voting now will be on a preferential rather than numerical-based scoring system. Entries can be viewed theatrically, on DVD or through the Academy’s streaming site. In the Best Picture category, the Academy will now recognize a bona fide “team” of not more than two people to be a “single producer” if the pair have had an established producing partnership as determined by the Producers Guild of America Producing Partnership Panel. As always, final determination of eligible credits will be made by the Academy’s Producers Branch Executive Committee.
In the Music Branch Original Score category, in the case of a score that has three or more “equally contributing composers,” they may be considered as a group but will be given only one statuette. I guess visiting rights would have to be worked out among that mythical trio should they win one day.
As for other changes, the Academy defined them as mere “housekeeping adjustments.” It also clarified rules for campaigning, specifically that prior to nominations members may not be invited to any lunch, dinner or other catered affair that promotes an eligible film for awards consideration that is not associated with a screening. But the rules do not prohibit reasonable food or beverages being served at screening venues or adjacent locations. It is similar to what is already in place but has been further defined.