Docs

Is “Senna” eligible for the best doc feature Oscar?

In recent weeks, there has been some debate as to whether or not Asif Kapadia's record-breaking doc Senna is actually eligible for the best documentary feature Oscar next year, considering that it consists entirely of archive footage. Well, realscreen has done some digging and found out the answer...
October 12, 2011

In recent weeks, there has been some debate as to whether or not Asif Kapadia’s record-breaking doc Senna is actually eligible for the best documentary feature Oscar next year, considering that it consists entirely of archive footage. Well, realscreen has done some digging and found out the answer…

In short: yes, it is.

The film, which looks at the life of late F1 racing driver Ayrton Senna da Silva, has broken box office records on both sides of the Atlantic since going theatrical in June, and has already been pegged by some as a frontrunner for the Academy Award next year.

But the fact that the film consists solely of archival footage has led to some questions about its eligibility, citing past precedents set by the Academy as a cause for concern.

Kapadia himself has reportedly been quick to the charge to defend his film’s chances, insisting that the new interviews he recorded for the film – which play as audio narration over the archival video – mean that, in effect, he has created new footage.

Yet it seems he doth protest too much.

According to filmmaker James Moll, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Documentary Branch Executive Committee (and a former best doc feature Oscar-winner himself, for 1998 effort The Last Days) there is no reason why an entirely archive-based documentary would not qualify anyway.

“There is no Academy rule that would disqualify a documentary simply because it is constructed entirely from archival footage,” Moll told realscreen.

The confusion seems to have stemmed in part from the belief that Werner Herzog’s 2005 classic Grizzly Man – which famously did not even make the 15-long doc feature Oscar shortlist, let alone the last five nominees – was snubbed because it was made entirely from archival, or ‘found footage’ (see here, here or here for example).

Yet Moll says this is an urban legend. “These articles are not correct,” he explains. “Grizzly Man was eligible, and was submitted for the 2005 qualifying year and was considered by Academy voters along with all other films submitted that year.”

So there you have it: case closed. Kapadia can now enter with a clear track ahead of him (ahem).

As for who will win the big prize, well, that’s another question. While still early in the awards season, for my money the race will be between Senna and Steve James’s epic Chicago-set doc The Interrupters. That said, there is still plenty of time for another film to sneak in and wow us all.

One mystery does remain – if Grizzly Man wasn’t snubbed for an Oscar on technical grounds, how on Earth did the Academy manage to overlook it, given its appearance on more than 150 critics’ top 10 lists in its year of release? Answers on postcard please.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.

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