In a bid to place a greater emphasis on the theatrical appeal of Oscar-nominated documentaries - and distance them further from their television funders - the Academy of Motion Picture Arts& Sciences has tightened eligibility rules for non-fiction films. The new rules will kick in for 2004 Academy Awards.

Current rules stipulatingthat Documentary Features and Short Subjects entries must satisfy a seven-daytheatrical run in Los Angeles County or the Borough of Manhattan have beenamended so that in order to qualify a film must now run in at least fouradditional cities. If the requirement cannot be met and the film is nominated,it must be withheld from television and internet transmission for nine monthsfollowing the day the nominations are announced in January 2004 for the 2003Awards year. Documentary short subjects that qualify via a competitive filmfestival must also fulfill one of these two options.

The net effect of these revisions is that television networks that may have put money into nominated documentaries will not be able to capitalise on their Oscar success by scheduling a television airing in the immediate aftermath of picking up a coveted statuette. Nor can they simply given their documentaries a token release by fourwalling the films briefly for the benefit of potential voters in Los Angeles and New York.

The changeswere recommended unanimously to the board in order to encourage a legitimatetheatrical roll-out. In a joint statement, the three documentary branchgovernors Freida Lee Mock, Michael Apted and Arthur Dong said: 'Thesechanges help to ensure that an Academy Award nomination and the Oscar itselfhonour films that have enjoyed bona fide commercial theatrical runs. They willalso allow and encourage those films which have not yet rolled out widely intheatres to utilise the Oscar or a nomination as a start to pursue healthytheatrical engagements and distribution.'

The amended rule will notaffect the 75th Academy Awards in March 2003 and commences with submissions forthe 2003 awards year. For the 76th Academy Awards in February 2004, adocumentary must qualify between Oct 1, 2002 and Aug 31, 2003. The eligibilityyear has also been pushed forward in the Live Action and Animated Short Filmscategories. Submissions must now qualify between Nov 1, 2002 and Sep 30, 2003.The amended timetable is designed to allow time for voting screenings beforethe earlier telecast on Feb 29, 2004.