“Disaster” is the word an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences executive used in describing for me the current state of this year’s competition for Best Documentary Feature. Yes, there’s trouble in River City and this is after new rules were put into place in January that were meant to democratize the process. Every year it seems one branch or another in the Academy creates major controversies, and this year it is again the Documentary branch’s turn in the hot seat. And we haven’t even seen the list of nominees yet, so fasten your seat belts.
Those new rules, as first reported on Deadline at the time, changed the nomination voting process. Instead of several groups of small mysterious committees each watching a set number of films, the whole documentary branch now has the opportunity to see and vote on every eligible film. Then final voting is opened up to the entire Academy to be pick a winner — just as they do on Best Picture and other categories. The new rules also attempted to trim the number of entries, specifically targeting films not really meant for theatrical release by requiring a one-week run in New York and Los Angeles as well as a review in either the New York Times or Los Angeles Times. This was seen as a way to discourage TV documentaries or vanity projects from getting into a race designed for movies that are truly meant for theaters first. HBO was a culprit, and now others are jumping into the docu world including today’s announcement regarding a new documentary unit from CNN.
The new system hasn’t worked out the way its main architect, Oscar-winning documentarian and Academy Doc branch Governor Michael Moore, envisioned, and he is the first to agree at least part of it has been a disaster. “I told them (the Academy) to use that word”, he said. “It’s a miserable failure.” Moore, who serves with co-governors Rob Epstein and Michael Apted, said this after branch members, who had already received a steady but manageable stream of movies to view on DVD through the first 9 months of the year, suddenly had about 80 new titles dumped on their doorsteps with only a month to go before ballots for the first wave of voting are due. (more…)