Oscar Voters Faced With Deluge of Fall Documentary Screeners

An October package of 62 additional qualifying films pushes the total doc field close to last year’s total of 134


Voters in the Academy’s Documentary Branch have just received a lavish package in the mail — one that could provide them with hours of pleasure, but also hours of guilt.

With less than two months to go before ballots are due to determine the shortlist in the Best Documentary Feature category, members of the branch received a bag containing 62 screeners — in other words, more than two films a day to watch if they want to be conscientious and view all the movies that have qualified for the award.

And that’s on top of the packages of screeners they have already been receiving throughout the year, which together are expected to come close to last year’s total of 134 qualifying films.

Few voters will even attempt to watch every one of the qualifying documentaries. From the batch of 62 films, according to an email sent to voters by the Academy, each branch member is assigned 12 or 13 films “for required viewing.”

The assignments are made randomly and distributed evenly, so that every qualifying film should be required viewing for almost 50 of the roughly 240 voting members of the branch.

Voters are also free to watch any films not on their required list before voting for their five favorites. The preferential counting system will be used to create a 15-film shortlist, which will be announced in early December.

A second round of voting will determine the final five nominees.

While the idea is to spread out the screeners sent to members as films qualify throughout the year, voters are invariably burdened with a large batch near the end of the voting window. This year’s package, though, is one of the biggest that has ever been dumped on branch members this late in the game.

2015 is the first full year under the doc branch’s new rule, which was adopted midway through 2014, requiring films to be screened at least four times a day during their Los Angeles and New York qualifying runs. That’s an increase over the previous rule that required two screenings per day, and makes it more expensive for filmmakers without theatrical distribution to “four-wall” two theaters for a week.

But the rule change does not appear to have had an appreciable affect on the number of qualifying films.

Of this year’s feature documentaries tracked by BoxofficeMojo, the only ones to gross more than $1 million were “Monkey Kingdom” ($16.4 million), “Amy” ($8.3 million), “Meru” ($2.1 million), “The Wolfpack” ($1.3 million), “Iris” ($1.3 million) and “Dior and I” ($1 million).

Other strong contenders include “The Hunting Ground,” “Cartel Land,” “The Look of Silence,” “Best of Enemies,” “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” “Seymour: An Introduction,” “He Named Me Malala,” “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” and the expected late-2015 releases “Song of Lahore,” “Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” and Michael Moore‘s “Where to Invade Next.”