All you indie documentarians out there with Oscar dreams may want to start sending flowers to Kenneth Turan. Because new rules put forth by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will require documentaries to be reviewed by either the New York or LA Times to be eligible for Oscar consideration. The move is undoubtedly an effort to deal with the growing volume of documentaries that are coming out these days. This Fishie has a friend who screens films for a festival-that-shall-not-be-named who tells us the number of docs is out of control. And most are TERRIBLE.
The Academy would never likely have to sift though rubbish like our friend. But docs can be produced so cheaply these days, the number of good films screening each year is growing too. The Academy is obviously hoping for a little help with quality control. However, notes the NY Times, there are a few kinks to be worked out.
A draft of the proposed rule did not specify whether the review had to be included in a print edition, or might run only online. It also did not specify length, or distinguish between the sort of capsule review, which sometimes introduces festival films, and a more elaborate piece of criticism. Reviews by television critics were specifically ruled out.
The move is quite interesting, given the debate over the usefulness of big name critics in the digital age. Newspaper film criticism has increasing filled a more curatorial role in recent years. So this new move, though controversial, makes some sense. Are some good films going to be left off the eligibility list? Absolutely. But do amazing but completely obscure films ever win Oscars? Not that we can recall. That’s what film festivals are for.