Oscar Doc Deadline Nears

One of the strongest fields in years will submit paperwork by Sept.1

The Oscar documentary field is already shaping up as one of the most competitive and crowded ones in years, and now here’s a reminder that we’re in the homestretch: next Wednesday, September 1, is the deadline for filmmakers to submit their films for consideration, the Academy announced on Thursday.

The documentary and doc short categories work on a different timeline than most of the Oscar categories; to qualify for the next Oscars, films must be shown in seven-day runs in Los Angeles and New York between September 1, 2009 and August 31, 2010. An extension is granted to films that can show legal contracts guaranteeing that their runs will be completed by September 30.

RestrepoEntry forms, according to the AMPAS press release announcing the deadline, must be accompanied by supporting materials, “including an English-language synopsis of the film, a list of film credits, filmographies of the director(s) (and producer(s), when applicable), 30 DVD copies of the film, and proof of seven-day qualifying exhibitions.”

The films that seem likely to be strong Oscar contenders this year include “Restrepo” (right), “A Film Unfinished,” “The Tillman Story” and the upcoming “Inside Job.” At the All These Wonderful Things documentary-focused blog. A.J. Schnack also singled out “The Oath,” “Enemies of the People,” “Last Train Home” and Gasland” as possible contenders.

This year’s Toronto Film Festival has a particularly strong lineup of documentaries, though not all of its films have deals that will qualify them for this year’s Oscar race. Notable films screening in Toronto include new works from Oscar-winning directors Alex Gibney (“Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer”), Errol Morris (“Tabloid”) and Werner Herzog (the 3D “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”).

The recent DocuWeeks showcase from the International Documentary Association qualified 17 films for the Oscars, including such strong films as “Waste Land,” “Louder than a Bomb,” “Freedom Riders” and “Pushing the Elephant.”

Two of the most eye-catching docs of the year, meanwhile, could be problematic with an Academy committee that generally prefers serious films about serious issues. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” could confuse Academy voters with its enigmatic nature (is it a doc, or isn’t it?), as could Casey Affleck’s Toronto-bound look at Joaquin Phoenix’s curious rap career, “I’m Still Here,” which has divided viewers as to whether it’s a true documentary or an elaborate put-on.

One of the most stirring documentaries of the year, “Marwencol,” opted not to qualify for the Oscar race because of cost considerations. The film will be released by Cinema Guild in October in New York and November in Los Angeles.

In a two-step voting process, committees of AMPAS members from the documentary branch will narrow the qualifying documentaries to a shortlist of 12 to 15 films, then chose the final five nominees. In the documentary short category, the shortlist will be made up of eight films, three to five of which will be nominated.