In the last 15 years, the International Documentary Assn. has helped 186 films qualify for Oscar consideration through its annual DocuWeeks screening program in New York and Los Angeles. Seventeen of those films have been nominated for an Oscar and seven have won, including "Smile Pinki" (2008), "Taxi to the Dark Side" (2007), and "The Blood of Yingzhou District" (2006).
So when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars, announced new rules this week for how documentaries can qualify for Oscar consideration starting with the 2013 awards, it put a question mark over the future of the DocuWeeks program.
A documentary has been able to qualify for Oscar consideration if it played for one week in New York or Los Angeles and that run was advertised. DocuWeeks helped filmmakers meet that requirement, charging them $14,000 to $20,000 for theatrical run costs and the paid advertising the academy required for eligibility. Although the costs may sound steep, for many of those documentaries, it was the only way the film could qualify because many never get theatrical distribution.
What's disconcerting to the IDA is the academy's new rule that states that for a nonfiction film to qualify for Oscar consideration it has to be reviewed in either the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times. Many of the films shown during the DocuWeeks festival have not been reviewed by either of the newspapers.
"The academy's new rules will certainly have an impact on IDA's DocuWeeks program," the IDA said in a statement Tuesday. "IDA will be evaluating that impact over the coming weeks and asking for further information and clarification from the academy as well as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times editorial staff."
It's unclear whether the academy rule changes will prompt a change in policy at either paper.
The IDA did commend the academy for making the selection process for documentary films more transparent and democratic by allowing the entire branch to vote on the nominees and the entire 5,783 membership vote for the winner.
Photo: The 2007 film "Taxi to the Dark Side" won an Oscar for best documentary after debuting at the DocuWeeks film festival. Credit: Darren McCollester / THINKFilm.