The Academy has made it official: New rules in the documentary category will take effect this year, dramatically changing the way nonfiction films are judged for the 85th Academy Awards in 2013.
The most drastic change is the elimination of a committee system in the Documentary Feature category. Instead, all branch members will be eligible to vote in the nominating process, and the entire Academy will be permitted to vote for the winner, without the previous requirement that they see all five nominees in a theatrical setting.
Oscar-winning director Michael Moore (left), who spearheaded the move to change the system, discussed the new rules at length with TheWrap this week, and said that they will bring democracy to the process and help stop the practice of TV networks quietly sneaking films into theaters for theatrical runs before holding splashy television "premieres."
The most controversial of the new rules, which requires a review in the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times, was designed to halt this process.
Under the previous system, a small number of voters judged each film in the early rounds, essentially giving each of those voters the chance to kill a film's chances.
The history of the documentary category is full of shocking snubs and omissions, from the failure of "Hoop Dreams" to be nominated in 1994 to this year's shortlist, which did not include the acclaimed documentaries "The Interrupters" (from the director of "Hoop Dreams," Steve James), "Into the Abyss" (Werner Herzog) and "Tabloid" (Errol Morris).
Changes were also made in the Live Action Short and Animated Short categories.
From the Academy press release, here is a description of the changes:
"In the Documentary Feature category, the entire Documentary Branch will now receive all eligible titles beginning in the first round of voting. To facilitate this change, filmmakers must submit 200 DVDs, an increase from the 30 that had been required in previous years. In the final round of voting in this category, members must still see all the nominated films, but the viewing of films on digital or DVD screeners will now be an option for satisfying this requirement.
A documentary feature film’s eligibility will continue to depend on completing seven-day qualifying runs in both New York and Los Angeles that are advertised in at least one major newspaper, as specified by Academy rules, in each city. For the 85th Academy Awards, however, a review by a movie critic in The New York Times and/or the Los Angeles Times will also be required.
"In the Animated Short Film and Live Action Short Film categories, members will still have to see all the nominated films before casting their final ballots, but viewing the films on screeners will now be an option for satisfying this requirement. Films that are shown during their theatrical run in a non-standard format, such as IMAX, will have to be submitted to the Academy in a standard theatrical aspect ratio and in a format currently accepted for Academy exhibition to remain eligible. Producers may provide additional screenings of their films in non-standard formats, but members’ attendance at such screenings will not be required for voting purposes."