The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is reportedly poised to revamp the criteria for films vying for the best documentary feature Oscar, adding a rule that to qualify, docs must be reviewed by either the Los Angeles Times or The New York Times.
The changes, due to be officially unveiled by the Academy later this week, could significantly reduce the number of docs submitted annually for Oscar consideration, and will apply to films qualifying for the 2013 ceremony.
The Academy’s documentaries branch considered 124 films this year, a 23% increase from 101 films the prior year.
In addition to the newspaper review criteria, other changes to the process will see the full Academy voting for best documentary feature; and the Academy documentary shortlist, and later the five nominees, being determined by a vote from the full documentary branch.
According to The New York Times, the new rules could diminish the prospects of those who make smaller and less prominent docs. Particularly hard hit, the paper said, would be DocuWeeks, the International Documentary Association’s program which helps filmmakers set up a brief theatrical run in New York or LA to qualify for the Oscars.
It added that one of this year’s shortlisted docs, Tony Hardmon and Rachel Libert’s Semper Fi: Always Faithful, might not have qualified under the new system.
“This will be a disappointment to a certain number of filmmakers,” Toronto International Film Festival documentary programmer Thom Powers told the paper.
Meanwhile, in an interview with film news site Indiewire (which has a lengthy analysis of the new rules), director Michael Moore – a member of the Academy’s 43-strong board of governors and one of three people that represents the documentary branch – spoke out to defend the changes.
He described the existing system as “byzantine” and in dire need of an overhaul, and said that the new system of rules would ensure that “two people can’t torpedo your opportunity to get an Oscar,” adding: “That’s over.”
The change to the rules comes after this year’s shortlist for the best documentary feature category once again caused controversy, with snubs for Senna and The Interrupters, two of the year’s most critically successful films.
Past years have seen acclaimed films such as Hoop Dreams, Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Waiting for “Superman” missing out.