In a outreach programme at the Tribeca Film Festival, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) explained the revised rules for documentary submissions and then opened the floor for film-makers to express their thoughts on the rules.
Apted, a seasoned director in Tribeca with his new football doc The Power Of The Game, explained that the documentary branch had to abide by the wider rules of AMPAS, which explains documentary stipulations such as the emphasis on an initial theatrical release instead of a TV debut. 'That's the agenda of the Academy,' Apted said.
Thom Powers, documentary programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, questioned Apted on the date change that now means a film will have to have its qualifying theatrical run in New York or Los Angeles by August 31 - before the Toronto festival, which has historically hosted high-profile world premieres of documentaries that have gone on to Oscar nominations or shortlisting.
'Any films at Toronto will now have a huge handicap against them if they have to do a theatrical run before the festival,' Powers said. If a film were to have its qualifying theatrical run for the public before the end of August, that means a Toronto screening wouldn't be a world premiere.
Apted said that he would discuss changing the date to after Toronto or Telluride for 2008's rule revisions and explained that the earlier deadline for docs compared with narratives was because of the tighter screening requirements in the documentary branch.
Apted fully admitted that the Academy's documentary rules would change yet again in 2008. 'We try things, we upped the qualifications from last year so we'll look at what happens this year. We have to see how this pans out and we need to hear from people what works and what doesn't.'
Industry audience members also balked at rules including the technical specifications for the qualifying run, with Mike Maggiore of New York's Film Forum noting that DigiBeta projection didn't qualify, which was a hindrance to independent exhibitors and distributors. Apted responded that he would question the specs with AMPAS, because the requirements for documentaries were the same as for feature exhibition.
One director said that the 14-city rollout 'was out of range for a lot of documentary film-makers.' One estimate was that each rollout would cost a minimum of $30,000-$60,000 per film, which was prohibitive for small distributors or self-distribution. Apted noted that the Academy might consider a different rule for a three-city week-long run instead.
Another film-maker in the audience also complained that the multi-state theatrical rollout (now requiring 14 cities in 10 states) must be completed by November 15, which means that a small film will have effectively ended its run long before the Oscar documentary shortlist or nominations are announced, so that any Academy accolades can't help boost a film's theatrical run at that point. A colleague added that the shortlist often helped pique distributor interest, which would now be too late, after a film had already had its 14-city run.
The exhibition rules also frustrated film-makers with broadcaster funding (from either US or foreign broadcasters), because many documentaries are made ineligible when a broadcaster insists on airing a film before its qualifying run.
Also, one Dutch film-maker in attendance said matter of factly that for most non-US projects, 'a multi-state rollout is impossible.' Apted replied: 'You have English awards, German awards and so on. These are American awards, why should international film-makers see an advantage''
Apted defended the rules, saying that the number of documentary submissions had risen, not fallen, since the rules had gotten more restrictive. Apted noted that the Academy itself recognized another loophole in this year's rules, which is that shortlisted films are required to get a film print made, which he will lobby to change for future years.