24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: DocuWeeks

Documentary association responds to academy's Oscar rule changes

January 10, 2012 |  1:23 pm

A scene from "Taxi to the Dark Side," which won an Oscar.


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. 


Film academy changes rules for documentary Oscar

A look at the 15 shorlisted documentary features

--Nicole Sperling

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.


Academy adopts new rules for Oscar documentaries

January 9, 2012 |  1:00 pm

In an effort to both pare down the number of documentaries eligible for Oscar consideration and increase the involvement of the entire 157-member documentary branch, the academy’s documentary branch has adopted new rules for the 2013 ceremony.

According to Rob Epstein, chair of the documentary branch executive committee, a documentary will be eligible for Oscar consideration only if it has been reviewed in either the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times. And rather than limit the nominating process to the committees within the documentary branch, now all 157 members of the branch will participate in the initial process, with the entire Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences membership (about 5,700 members) eligible to vote on the winner after seeing the film on a screener -- a specially provided DVD copy. (The previous policy allowed only the documentary branch to vote on best documentary and only if the voter saw the film in a theater.)

The rules apply to films released in 2012, which will be honored in 2013.

"The mission of the Academy is to honor motion pictures intended for theaters," Epstein said in an email. "Over the past two years, the documentary branch has experienced a vast increase in the number of non-theatrical documentaries, specifically, films that will not have real theatrical distribution but are merely running in a theater for one week in order to qualify for Academy consideration."

The newspaper review component is supposed to ensure that the film is receiving a legitimate theatrical run. In general, the L.A. Times reviews documentaries that do receive a one-week run (in similar fashion to the N.Y. Times), but there have been some exceptions -- in the past, films that have played as part of the International Documentary Assn.'s annual DocuWeeks festival have not received an L.A. Times review during that run.

With a proliferation of eligible documentaries in the last two years due to the advancement of digital technology, the new process is intended to make the selection process more manageable. But some filmmakers are concerned that the changes could hurt smaller, less commercial documentaries, such as those in DocuWeeks, which often exhibits films that have not landed commercial theatrical distribution.


Documented, but is it real?

A look at the 15 shortlisted documentary features

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs accepting the best documentary feature for "Inside Job" at the 2011 Academy Awards. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times.

DocuWeeks' Week 3: Elmo, David Letterman and military matters

August 31, 2011 | 10:55 am

Elmo and Kevin Clash

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

The International Documentary Assn.'s 15th Annual DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase enters its third and final week on Friday at the Laemmle's Sunset 5. The six films all are attempting to qualify for Academy Award consideradition.

Here's a look at this week's eclectic lineup:

"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey"

Constance Marks produced and directed this documentary on Kevin Clash. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, it's about the man who created the adorable red Muppet Elmo.

"Dying to do Letterman"

Joke Fincioen and Biagio Messina directed this award-winning documentary, which chronicles comic Steve Mazan's attempt to perform on David Letterman's show. His quest becomes still more important when he learns he may only have five years to live.

Hell and Back Again clip from Danfung Dennis on Vimeo.

"Hell and Back Again"

Photojournalist and filmmaker Danfung Dennis examines how a Taliban machine-gun bullet affects the life of a young sergeant serving in Afghanistan.

"The Mexican Suitcase"

Trisha Ziff's story of the recovery of 4,500 negatives taken by the great photographers Robert Capa, Gerda Taro and David Seymour during the Spanish Civil  War.

Semper Fi: Always Faithful Trailer from Rachel Libert on Vimeo.

"Semper  Fi: Always Faithful"
Rachel Libert and Tony Hardmon produced and directed this documentary about a Marine's discovery of a Marine Corps cover-up of a water contamination incident that was one of the worst in U.S. history.

"The Tiniest Place"

Tatian Huezo wrote and directed this documentary set in the Salvadoran jungle that examines the strength of the residents of an annihilated town.

For the record, 11:30 a.m. Aug. 31: An earlier version of this post referred to "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" as "Becoming Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey."


DocuWeeks Week 2: Homegrown Terrorism and International problems

First offerings at documentary showcase

-- Susan King

Photo: Elmo and Kevin Clash. Credit: Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images.

DocuWeeks' Week 2: Homegrown terrorism and international problems

August 25, 2011 | 10:13 am

The International Documentary Assn.'s 15th annual DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which allows feature and documentary shorts to qualify for Academy Award consideration, enters its second week Friday at the Laemmle's Sunset 5.

Here's a look at the programs for Friday through Sept. 1

"Better This World" trailer from "BetterThisWorld" on Vimeo.

"Better This World"

Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega wrote, produced and directed this feature about two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas, who fall under the spell of a revolutionary who is 10 years their senior. At the Republican National Convention in 2008, the "Texas Two" find themselves accused of domestic terrorism.

Continue reading »

First offerings at the DocuWeeks documentary showcase

August 19, 2011 |  9:18 pm

Over the next three weeks, 17 feature and seven documentary shorts will qualify for Academy Award consideration via the International Documentary Assn.'s 15th annual DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase. DocuWeeks kicked off Friday at Laemmle's Sunset 5 and continues through Sept. 8.

Each film in the showcase will be screened for one week to meet academy requirements. "You have to have a one-week run in Los Angeles and New York," said the association's executive director, Michael Lumpkin. "For documentary shorts, you have to have a week run either in L.A. or New York."  (DocuWeeks began in New York last week.)

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DocuWeeks will give 17 documentaries, 7 shorts a shot at Oscar

July 6, 2011 |  4:15 pm

ElmoA batch of documentaries that have yet to secure theatrical distribution deals will be coming to a screen near you soon -- and will have the chance to score the ultimate filmmaking accolade: an Oscar.

On Wednesday, the International Documentary Assn. announced it had selected 17 feature-length documentaries along with seven short films to be screened in the group's annual DocuWeeks showcase. For the last 15 years, DocuWeeks has allowed films the chance to get a coveted one-week theatrical run in Los Angeles and New York. Why is that such a big deal? Not only does that allow the often little-seen movies to reach audiences -- but it also means the pictures can then officially be nominated in the best documentary category at the Academy Awards next year. 2010's DocuWeeks, for example, ended up yielding a nomination for the environmental film "Wasteland," which was never seen in theaters outside of the event.

A number of the films selected this year have already played at prominent film festivals nationwide. "Being Elmo," about a poor African American kid from suburban Baltimore who grew up to voice the "Sesame Street"  puppet, was received warmly at the Sundance Film Festival in January. "Miss Representation," a film about the objectification of women in the media directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom (wife of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom), also premiered in Park City, Utah. And "Unfinished Spaces," which focuses on work to construct a Cuban National Art Schools complex in the early 1960s, was part of a special Cuban program at the Los Angeles Film Festival last month.

Among the shorts being screened are "Poetry of Resilience," a 40-minute look at six poets who lived through political disasters; "The Home Front," about feuds between neighbors; and "Sun City Picture House," about building a cinema in earthquake-ravaged Haiti that was executive produced by actresses Olivia Wilde and Maria Bello.

The movies will screen Aug. 19 through Sept. 8 at the Laemmle Sunset 5 and Aug. 12 through Sept. 1 at New York's IFC Center.

A full list of all the films being screened during DocuWeeks follows on the jump.

Continue reading »


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