Saturday, March 03, 2007

Docu Drama

There's an "open letter" over at Green Cine from the producer of Iraq in Fragments, one of last year's Oscar-nominated documentaries. It's a heartfelt letter that's upset about Jerry Seinfeld's presentation on Oscar night --his humor is deemed disrespectful. The larger subject is general treatment of documentary films. Though I can't find any supporting documentation, apparently the Academy plans to significantly expand the distribution requirements for documentary features to qualify.

Here's how it works currently. Regular movies must get a theatrical one week release in LA during the calendar year to be eligible. Documentary Features have different rules. I was going to quote it but it's lengthy so let me remove the legalese. Basically it boils down to two things.
  1. To be eligible a documentary feature must have a regular one week theatrical release in theaters in either NYC or LA to qualify. (The eligibility year runs from September to August instead of January to December)
  2. At some point before the nominations are announced, the same documentary feature must have a "multi-city" roll out which means it must play for at least two consecutive days in 8 more cities (Festivals don't count)
So, if I'm understanding the letter correctly ,the proposed Academy plans for the new ruling mean that documentary films will now have to open (for at least two days) in 14 cities (in addition to either LA or NYC) which will prove more difficult obviously since documentaries often have trouble funding extensive rollouts --especially without the guarantee of an Oscar nomination which theoretically helps to spark public interest. Will an expansion of these requirements merely shift financial planning for documentaries or will it mean only easier sold documentaries (like Shut Up & Sing and An Inconvenient Truth) qualify in the future?


gabrieloak said...

John Sinno is the producer of Iraq in Fragments and is the one who posted the open letter. James Longley is the director.

Neel Mehta said...

Even scarier is the idea that easily sold SUBJECT MATTER will take up the nominations in the future. Way before the battle for distribution is the battle for production, and I'd imagine a lot of talented documentary filmmakers will have even more trouble getting their (unpopular) movies financed.


but what i'm wondering is --now i don't know a lot about how difficult it is to get your movie into two day play dates in major cities... but is it as difficult as the letter suggests?

because given the rules if your film qualifies for the shortlist (since they pick the movies in rounds), surely that would give the distributors ample reason to arrange an extra 6 cities in order to make sure they aren't disqualified?


what i mean to say is that, though i do agree more than not with the letter, i think it's maybe disingenuous to say 'iraq in fragments' would not have qualified for this new rule...

[again --i don't know what rule this is or if his info is correct because i can't find any official statement from the academy about it]

... because producers and distributors of acclaimed documentaries were surely aware of the rules this year --in other words, they opened their movies in enough cities in order to qualify. I don't think the release pattern was accidental you know?

I don't think any of the films (aside from the "hits" like Truth or maybe Jesus Camp) would have just opened in NY or LA plus 8 cities for two days unless they were trying specifically to meet the requirements.

so wouldn't it just be a matter of future documentaries knowing if they're in the finals 'i gotta open in 14 cities for 2 days by jan something or other' and acting accordingly?

Glenn Dunks said...

I like Dave Poland's suggestion (at his blog) much more. A minimum amount of engagements being needed in order to qualify, that includes regular cinemas and festivals.

It's silly that these movies don't follow the same rules as the regular movies though.


it is silly. it's weird that i never made the disconnect. They have more stringent restrictions than features, which only have to play in LA for a week. that ain't right

(though personally i'd make it harder for features, too... since i think the one week LA only thing is a crock... that's not an even playing field. some films having to face the public and box office performance, others being shielded from moviegoers eyes and reaction. blech)

gabrieloak said...

When James Longley came to speak at a screening at the university where I work, he said the good thing about the Oscar nomination is that it increased bookings of the film at more theaters. It seems that it is difficult for the documentary filmmakers to get their movies shown in theaters around the country, unless they are obviously entertaining.

RC said...

i certainly can't say that the rule change sound beneficial, unless it means more documentaries get release coverage.