This is documentation of a proposal to create a Documentary Branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and correspondence regarding the elimination of the Oscar for Short Documentary Subject
Petition Statement to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for Documentary Branch Status
Like light and shadow, fiction and nonfiction filmmaking are inseparably entwined. 1t was the scientific urge to precisely capture the natural world that gave birth to motion pictures. Growing from the simple “actualities“of the Lumiere brothers, documentaries have created our vision of the world over the last one hundred and fifteen years.
The Academy has recognized the unique contributions of documentary film making since 1941. The awards over six decades offer an extraordinary record of our times. Consider just a single example from each decade:
Desert Victory 1943 WWII
The Silent World 1956 Environment
The Anderson Platoon 1967 Vietnam
Woodstock 1970 Music and Culture
Genocide 1981 Human Rights
Maya Lin 1994 Biography
There artistic, cultural, social and political impact of documentaries is extraordinary. All of us benefit from the clarity of vision, the passion, and the integrity of our documentary heritage. But documentaries have also made a special contribution to the community of filmmakers at large and to the development of both the art and science of all motion pictures. It’s film’s wondrous ability to immerse us in“reality” that bas inspired artists to create their own world on film. Those filmmakers who are concerned with naturalism, with creating a heightened sense of realism, owe a special debt to documentary productions. Particularly since the 1970s, the techniques and formal inventiveness of documentary directors have come to define “reality” as depicted in many of the most acclaimed fictional features. Handheld camerawork, overlapping dialog tracks, the look of fast film and natural lighting pioneered in direct cinema documentaries are now part of every director’s available vocabulary.
Many films have built on the prior work of documentaries. The vision of the past in Zelig, Forest Gump and JFK is a function of nonfiction production. Would Schindler’s List have been possible without The Sorrow and the Pity? Or Reds without Seeing Red? Are the remarkable performances in Boys Don’t Cry based in part on The Brandon Teena Story? Today as never before, documentary concerns and documentary vision are at the heart of the art of motion pictures.
Documentarie and the AMPAS Mission
This past year the Academy bas seized the initiative, recognizing with renewed emphasis the importance of documentary production to the Academy’s mission. The constituting of a new Documentary Executive Committee by President Robe1t Rehme comprised entirely of active nonfiction filmmakers was an important first step. The creation of new procedures for the consideration of feature-length documentaries was the first fruit of a revitalized commitment to documentary art. The result is “A Boost for Documentaries That Aim High,” as headlined in the Sunday New York Times (3/ 12/00, see attached).
But ironically, even as the importance of documentaries to both the public and the Academy is more evident than any time in recent memory, the unique perspective of documentary filmmakers remains officially unrepresented in the governing structure of the organization. Not only do Academy Members-At-Large documentarians have no voice on the Board of Governors, but since the last meeting of the Short Film and Feature Animation Branch Executive Committee they are specifically excluded from new membership in that Branch as well. Thus, documentarians’ opportunity for representation on the Board will actually become further diminished than before.
Documentary filmmakers have much to contribute not only in issues which directly affect them. Their knowledge, experience and legendary passion will bring fresh energy and unique, invaluable perspectives to the essential work of Academy governance.
Now is a particularly propitious time to recognize the uniquely important contributions of documentary producers and directors to the mission of the Academy. The rationale for creating a Documentary Branch is evident in Article Il of the Bylaws, which states that the purposes of the Academy include:
” … fostering cooperation among the leadership of the motion picture industry for cultural, educational and technological progress.”
The documentary has made and continues to make numerous direct and significant contributions to the cultural, educational and technological progress of the industry. Without exaggeration it is fair to state that fact-based productions are among the most important chronicles of the great social and cultural issues of our times. It is risk-taking documentarians who have pushed the boundaries of all filmmaking new levels of artistic achievement and technical innovation. Documentary productions have played a pioneering role in the development of such production mainstays as fast film stocks, synchronized sound and portable cameras, Dolby, color, widescreen, large screen formats, editing and digital filmmaking.
” … [focusingl public attention upon the highest quality in motion picture production.”
Creating a Documentary Branch will publicly confirm to both tbe rest of tbe filmmaking community and the public the unparalleled achievements and contributions of documentaries to the overall development of the motion picture form. Furthermore, and not insignificantly in a time when our society particularly recognizes tl1e importance of diversity, the ranks of documentary filmmakers include a higher proportion both of women and minority filmmakers than is commonly found in the fictional film world. Creation of a Documentary Branch would thus present a greater opportunity to hear voices and perspectives that can enrich our common experience.
” … provid[ingl a forum and common meeting ground …. “
Some of the most respected members of the Academy —artists like Michael Apted, Carrol Ballard, Jonathan Demme, Diane Keaton, Spike Lee, Frank Marshall, Shirley Maclaine, Al Pacino, Martin Scorcese, Steven Spielberg and Haskell Wexler — are also documentary filmmakers. The Academy and all of its members will benefit from the collegial contributions of a fully institutionalized Documentary Branch.
” … foster[ingl]educational activities between the public and the industry … encoura[ing] an appreciation for the motion picture as an art form and a vocation.”
The pre-eminent role of documentary production as both public education and as an art form 1s unchallenged. Documentarians have won a deservedly esteemed public reputation for social responsibility and artistic integrity. Creation and recognition of a Documentary Branch will thus be a positive step resulting in public approbation and increased prestige for the Academy at large.
By every measure documentary producers and directors are deserving of representation in the formal governing structure of the Academy.
Our collective memory resonates with the brilliance, vision, insight and empathy of risk-taking documentary filmmakers. Audiences around the world remain fascinated with images of our living history. As we rush toward the creation of a global culture, capturing the vitality and variety of human experience remains the unique province of documentary filmmaking. From the awe-inspiring, heroic heights of Everest to the equally heroic intimacies of Breathing Lesson and King Gimp, documentaries entertain us, inspire us, educate and reward us now — and for generations to come. Documentaries speak for us and to us — from generation-to-generation. They are the record of where we have been, asking questions that we must answer for our elves.
Now is the time for the Academy to fully recognize one hundred and fifteen years of documentary accomplishments. The work and success of documentary filmmakers is indispensable tot the on-going mission of the organization. The matter of inclusion of Academy documentary filmmakers in the governance process oft the Academy is one of simple fairness. Documentarians deserve a Branch of the Academy recognizing the uniqueness of their contribution the arts and sciences of motion pictures. The benefits of this investment will accrue to all filmmakers and to the delight of audiences in venues yet to be invented.
Dear Alec [Lorimore],
As you’ve suggested I’ve incorporated the highlighted text from the Visual Effects proposal. I’ve also added a section on box office impact. In the time available I wasn’t able to come up with a comprehensive source of thcatrlcal grosses. Baseline.hollywood.com has a good database apparently but there is a$ 119 subscription fee.
You still want to consider where and how to add the material regarding potential members. We are running a little long now. Feel free to wield your blue pencil.
Keep me posted, and let me know how else I can help.
Position Statement to the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for Documentary Branch Status
This December marks the 105th anniversary of the first public exhibition of a motion picture to paying audiences. Louis Lumiere’s Arrival of a Train made viewers gasp in amazement. Growing from the simple “actualities” of the Lumiere Brothers, documentaries have come to define our world. Today the time is right to recognize the singular art and science of documentary films. The benefits of this investment will accrue to all filmmakers and to the delight of audiences in venues yet to be invented.
The Academy has recognized the unique contributions of documentary filmmaking since 1941. The awards over six decades offer an extraordinary record of our times. The range and scope of documentary vision extends from the nearly invisible insect societies of The Hellstom Chronicle (Best Documentary 1971) to the unblinking social portraits of Fredrick Wiseman (High School), Michael Apted (7,14,28 and 35 Up) and Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A. Best Documentary 1976 ). The artistic, cultural, social and political impact of documentaries like Woodstock (Best Documentary 1970) and Hearts and Minds (Best Documentary 1974) has been extraordinary. All of us benefit from the clarity of vision, the passion, and the integrity of our documentary heritage. Like light and shadow, fiction and nonfiction filmmaking are inseparable . The documentary art has made a special contribution to the community of filmmakers at large and to the development of both the art and science of all motion pictures. By any measure — creative, technical or popular — documentary production has had a profound impact on fllmmaking, and its role continues to grow.
Documentary ingenuity has changed the way movies are made. All filmmakers who are concerned with creating a heightened sense of realism owe a special debt to documentary productions. Particularly since the 1970s, the techniques and formal inventiveness of documentary directors have come to define “reality” as depicted in many of the most acclaimed fictional features. handheld camerawork , overlapping dialog tracks, the look of fast film and natural lighting pioneered in direct cinema documentaries are now part of every director’s available vocabulary.
Many films have built on the prior work of documentaries. The vision of the past in Zelig, Forest Gump and JFK ls a function of nonfiction production. Would Schindler’s List have been possible without The Sorrow and the Pity? Or Reds~ without Seeing Red? Are the remarkable performances in Boys Don’t Cry based in part on The Brandon Teena Story? Today as never before, documentary concern sand documentary vision are at The heart of the art of motion pictures. Documentary filmmakers are advancing the art of moviemaking in virtually every type of film. By creating a Documentary Branch, theAcademy will acknowledge another important contributor to state-of-the-art filmmaklng as it exists today. By granting Branch Status to documentary filmmakers, the Academy will not only fulfill its mandate to recognize a major facet of film production; It will also spotlight the preeminence of documentary filmmakers on the world stage.
Documentaries and the AMPAS Mission
This past year the Academy has seized the initiative, recognizing with renewed emphasis the importance of documentary production to the Academy’s mission. President Robert Rehme’s constituting of a new Documentary Executive Committee comprised entirely of active nonfiction filmmakers was an important first step. The creation of new procedures for the consideration of feature-length documentaries was the first fruit of a revitalized commitment to documentary art. The result is “A Boost for Documentaries That Aim High,” as headlined in the Sunday New York Times (3/12/00, see attached).
But ironically, even as the importance of documentaries to both the public and the Academy is more evident than at any time in recent memory, the unique perspective of documentary filmmakers remains officially unrepresented in the governing structure of the organization. Not only do Academy Members-At-Large documentarians have no voice on the Board of Governors, but since the last meeting of the Short Film and Feature Animation Branch Executive Committee documentary makers are specifically excluded from new membership in that Branch as well. This has further reduced documentarians’ opportunity for representation on the Board.
Documentary filmmakers have much to contribute — not only to issues which directly affect them. Their knowledge, experience and legendary passion will bring fresh energy and unique, invaluable perspectives to the essential work of Academy governance. Now is a particularly propitious time to recognize the uniquely important contributions of documentary producers and directors to the mission of the Academy. The rationale for creating a Documentary Branch is evident in Article II of the Bylaws, which states that the purposes of the Academy include:
” … foster[ing] cooperation among the leadership of the motion picture industry for cultural, educational and technological progress.”
The documentary has made and continues to make numerous direct and significant contributions to the cultural, educational and technological progress of the industry. Without exaggeration ls fair to say that fact-based productions are among the most important chronicles of the great social and cultural issues of our times. It is risk-laking documentarians who have pushed the boundaries of all filmmaking to new levels of artistic achievement and technical innovation. Documentary productions have played a pioneering role in the development of such production mainstays as fast film stocks, synchronized sound and portable cameras, Dolby, color, widescreen, large screen formats, editing and digital filmmaking.
” … [focussing] public attention upon the highest quality in motion picture production.”
Documentary films present the industry in a positive, innovative light. Creating a Documentary Branch will publicly confirm to both the rest of , filmmaking community and the public the unparalleled achievements and contributions of documentaries to the overall development of the motion picture form. Furthermore, and not insignificantly in a time when our society is particularly recognizes the importance of diversity, the ranks of documentary filmmakers include a higher proportion of both women and minority filmmakers than is commonly found in the fictional film world. Creation of a Documentary Branch would create more opportunities to hear voices and perspectives that can enrich our common experience.
provid[ing] a forum and common meeting ground …. “
Some of the most respected members of the Academy —artists like Michael Apted, Carrol Ballard, Jonathan Demme, Diane Keaton, Spike Lee, Frank Marshall , Shirley Maclaine, Al Pacino, Marlin Scorcese, Steven Spielberg and Haskell Wexler — are also documentary filmmakers. The Academy and all of its members will benefit from the collegiaJ contributions of a fully institutionalized Documentary Branch. By recognizing the documentary filmmakers in its ranks, the Academy validates its own evolution and growth.
” … foster[ing]educational activities between the public and the industry…encourag[ing] an appreciation of the motion picture as an art form and a vocation.”
The pre-eminent role of documentary production as both public education and as an art form is unchallenged. Documentarians have won a deservedly esteemed public reputation for social responsibility and artistic integrity. Creation of a Documentary Branch will thus be a positive step resulting in increased prestige for the Academy at large.
By every measure documentary producers and directors are deserving of representation in the formal governing structure of the Academy.
Documentary Production and the Film Industry
Documentary productions are economically significant and commercially viable. The public exhibition of documentary films ls thriving in a thousand theaters, in more than 200 film festivals in over 100 museums and science centers. in hundreds of universities and in major international theme parks like EPCOT Center and Futurescope.
Films such as Roger and Me, The Thin Blue Line, Hoop Dreams, Crumb, and The Buena Vista Social Club have delighted audiences and investors alike .Large format films like Thrill Ride and the Mysteries of Egypt have been consistently among the top performers in Variety’s “Number of Weeks in Release” chart. To Fly at $155 million may currently hold the record for top grossing documentary of all times. But Michael Jordan to the Max is making a fast break, scoring a first week’s gross of $578,417 (May 8, 2000).
The fastest growing documentary segment of documentary production —special format films is growing exponentially. And all forms of documentary production generate 100s of millions of dollars annually creating jobs and enriching our communities.
Our collective memory resonates with the brilliance, vision, insight and empathy of risk-taking documentary filmmakers. Audiences around the world remain fascinated with images of our living history. As we rush toward the creation of a global culture, capturing the vitality and variety of human experience remains the unique province of documentary filmmaking. From the awe-inspiring, heroic heights of Everest to the equally heroic intimacies of Breathing Lessons and King Gimp, documentaries entertain us, inspire us, educate and reward us now –and for generations to come. Documentaries speak for us and to us — from generation-to-generation. They are the record of where we have been, asking questions that we must answer for ourselves.
Now is the time for the Academy to fully recognize the distinct expertise [of] documentary filmmakers. In the century lo come, there will likely be no film that 1s untouched by the power of documentary accomplishments. The work and success of documentary filmmakers is indispensable to the on-going mission of the organization: The matter of inclusion of Academy documentary filmmakers in the governance process of the Academy 1s one of simple fairness. Documentarians deserve an Academy Branch of their own and the consequent recognition and representation that is inherent with branch status. They have earned it.
DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER MEMBERS as of 5/4/00
David Adams 11-N
Michael J. Ahnemann 1-N
Robert Amram, 2-W
Kary Antholis (;NJ) 1-W
John Avildscn 1-N
Richard Barcla1r (NY) 1-W
Anne Belle (NY) 1-N
Brigitte Berman (Can) 1-W
Jon Blair (UK) 1-W
Les Blank (SF)
Jon Boorstin 1-N
Charles D. Braverman
Ken Burns (NH) 2-N
Benjamin P. Bu:’tt (SF) 1-N
William Cartwright, Sr.
George V. Casey 4-N
Deborah Chasnoff (SF) 1 –W
Arthur Cohn –3W & 1-N
WilliamD. Cout~rie 1-W & 1-N
Mel Damski 1-N
Jonathan Demme (NY)
Pen Densham 2-N
Deborah Dickso,1(1N Y) 2-N
Vince DiPersio 3-N
Arthur Dong 1- N
Robert P. Epstein (SF) 2-W
Joseph Feuy (Nt7) 1-W
Connie Field (SF) 1-N
Marshall Flaum Z-N
Maria Florio 1-W
Jeffrey Friedman (SF)
Leon Gast (NY) 1-W
Karen Goodma(N Y) 2-N
Lee Grant (NY)
Walon Green l-W
Charles E. Guggenheim (DC) 4-W & 8-N
William Guttentag (SF) 1-W & 3-N
Jack Haley, Jr.
Mark J, Harris 1-W
Michael Hausman (NY)
Robert Hillrnann (SF) 1-N
Deborah Hoffinann (SF) 1-N
Mike Hoover (WY) 1-W
Lawrence Hott (MA) 2-N
Eugene S. Jones 1-N
John C, Joseph 1-W
Milton Justice (NY) 1-W
Sarah Kemochan (NY) 1-W
Barbara Kopple (NY) 2-W
Julian Krnirun (NY) 1-W & 1-N
Ellen Kuras (NY)
Peter W. Ladue (MA) 1-W
Alan Landsburg 1-N
Larry M. Lansburgh (OR) 2-W & 1-N
Margaret Lazarus (MA) 1-W
Spike Lee (NY) 1-N
Robin Lehman (NY) 2-W
Murray Lerner (NY) 1-W & 1-N
Allie Light (SF) 1-W
Lynne Littman 1-W
Warren L, Lockhart 1-W
Alec Larimore 1-N
Evan A Lottman (NY)
Marcel Lozinski (Poland) 1-N
Greg MacGillivray 1-N
Frank W. Marshall
Sue Miμx (M]) 1-W
Kieth Merrill (OR) 1-W & 1-N
Allan Miller (NY) 1-W & 1-N
Richard Miner (WA)
James Moll 1-W
Errol Morris QvfA)
Victoria Mudd 1-W
Tom Neff 1-N
Paul Novros 1-N
Al Pacino (NY)
Edmund F. Penney 1-N
Dale M. Pollock
Steven B. Poster
Harry Rasley (Can) 1-N
Alan Raymond (NY) 1-W & 1-N
Susan Raymon,i (NY) 1-W & 1-N
Frances Reid (~IF) 1-N
Robert Richter (NY) 2-N
Bob Rogers 1-N
Nina Roseoblur.~(N Y) 1-N
De Witt L. Sag1pJ,r . (CT) 1-W & 2-N
Terry B. Sandel’s 2-W & 3-N
Irving Saraf(SF1) 1-W
Paul Seydor 1-M
Bert Schneider 1-W
Arnold Schwartzman 1-W
Martin Scorsese’ (NY)
Joan KeUer Selznick 1-W & 1-N
Ben Alvin Shedd (NJ) 1-W
David H. Shepard
Marjorie Anne Short (MA) 1-N
Bayley Silleck (NY) 1-N
Kirk Simon (NY) 2-N
Susanne Simpson (MA) 2-N
Aviva Slesin (NY) 1- W
Buddy Squires (MA) 1-N
George Stevens, Jr. (DC) 1-N
Mel Stuart 1-N
Jonathan T, Taplin
E. Francis Thompson (NY) 1-W & 1-N
Susan Todd (NY) 1-N
Barbara Trent (NC) 1-W
Vivienne Verdon-Roe (SF) 1-W & 1-N
Frederick Wiseman (MA)
Ira Wohl 1-W
David L. Wolper 1-N
Chuck Workman 1-W
Donald Wrye 2-N
Renner Wunderlich (MA) 1-W
Gerardine Wurzburg (DC) 1-W
Andrew Young (NY) 1-N
Jessica Yu 1-W
The Board of Governors
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Dear Members of the Board of Governors.
As you may know, I have long been an ardent admirer and supporter of both feature and short documentary films, having Executive Produced this year’s Oscar winner, THE LAST DAYS, through the Shoah Foundation. I understand the Board of Governors will be meeting mid-June to consider re-instating the separate Oscar for Documentary Short Films.
I wrote to the Board to express my wholehearted endorsement of continuing to recognize Documentary Short Films with an individual Academy Award. Lumping all lengths of documentaries together in a single category serves neither well and effectively eliminates Documentary Shorts from the consideration they deserve. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Signed Steven Spielberg
April 1, 1999
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
FAX: 310 859 9619
Dear Bob and Bruce:
I’m being bombarded with calls – as you may be – !rom members who deplore the loss of the Shore Documentary Oscar. Some of their reasons may be ill-informed, but some are valid and worth exploring, so I figured I’d get my own ideas in as well.
As you know I’ve been disappointed in the number and quality of the entrants for this award recently, and often felt the ShortDocumentary award was no longer as meaningful as it once might have been. But I frankly never expected the award to be totally eliminated and I hope the Academy can find another way of solving the problem. After some thought, my recommendation would be be for the Governors to reconsider eliminating this category but also reexamine the way these films qualify for eligibility. The short documentary is still an important category, and is alive and well in the filmmaking community, especially filmmakers without: vast resources. Just having the award seems to open up significant production opportunities, and brings Academy consideration for many worthy but unknown filmmakers, especially women and minorities. And, for whatever it’s worth from Walt Disney to to Lynne Littman to Jessica Yu (whose “dress cost more than film”) to this year’s charming winner, it’s usually a lovely moment: in the show.
I know the argument that this is often a television genre, and I believe that fairly strict rules of theatrical eligibility should continue. But the proper approach for me would be to make the Short Documentary award even more of a theatrical award than before than before by allowing film festival qualification, exactly as in Live Action Shorts. As someone who is involved in many festivals, I can say confidently that are very good short documentaries being shown, and in theaters- on film festival screens. Many just don’t get our awards process.
As we accepted IMAX, we should be open to changing theatrical venues. The many festivals old and new, all have legitimate theatrical screens. Like the Live Action Shorts, they may be the only screens these films ee, but that shouldn’t disqualify them.
Signed Chuck Workman
June 11, 1999
The Board of Governors
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Ladies and Genteleman:
It has come to my attention that the Academy is questioning the validity of the Documentary Short Award. I’ve carefully read both sides of the argument and there’s only one solution that comes to mind and it is as follows:
If the purpose of theOscars is in fact the same as that of the Golden Globes, then sure why not get rid of it. If the whole point of the event comes down to a ploy for television ratings, including haute couture, small waists, b1g breasts, tight buns, Joan River’s endless commentary, and an inside look into Tom Cru1se’s hair, what’s the point of the Documentary Shon Award or the Documentary Long Form Award anyway?
If ratings and money from advertisers is what the tradition of the Oscars has become – why not cut out a few more unnecessary presentations? Do we really need a prime-time Oscar presentation for film editing? 1f we cut out the sound editing, art direction and writing, we can add more interpretive dance.
Am I just disillusioned, or living in a dream? I always thought the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was just that – an organization created for the promotion. protection and perseverance of the exceptional art form that is cinema.
At the end of the day, whatever will be, will be. But, for :now, wouldn’t you rather be responsible for an award ceremony that acknowledges brilliance, vision, insight. empathy and taking chances –– not to mention awarding delightful people like Keiko Ibi, who may very well have served as the redemption from the interpretive dance? Hopefully it’s not about selling out. If it 1s, why even go inside the Pavilion? We could just spend 4 1/2 hours on the red carpet assessing cleavage.
Thank you for your attention to these matters. Sometimes we all stray from our moral center, but as long as we return, the world will continue to be a decent place.
Signed Walon Green
cc: Friends of the Short Film
April 21, 1999
The Board of Governors
Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences
8949 Wilshire Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
President Robert. Rehme and Members of The Board of Governors,
Please allow me to to express my, support for the Academy, reins1a1ing the Oscar for Documentary Short Films.
By combing the Documentary Short category with the Documentary Feature category, I believe the Academy would remove an important voice among filmmakers. Short documentaries serve society as a form of airing social issues. They serve filmmaking by providing a format for experimentation.
One of the Academy’s roles is to encourage and expand the film form, and I believe the removal of a separate category for short documentaries jeopardizes that role. Shorter films deserve the same recognition as feature-length films. Each is a unique art form. I hope the Board will reverse their decision and vote to reinstate the Oscar for Best Achievement in Documentary Short Subject.
Signed George Lucas
TO Arnold and Freida
RE Branch Proposal
As I discussed with Freida, attached is a slightly revamped version of Mark Freeman’s draft. l’ve reformatted it for easy reading, as well as making a few wording and punctuation change — but it’s largely as he wrote it. Here are a few thoughts on how it could be improved.
I) List of documentary examples by decade. Are these in fact the most prestigious titles
to promote our cause?
2) We need to include a section on the vitality of documentary films in theatrical exhibition today. Though l still believe we shouldn’t get into a strictly box office discussion, it’s important to say the docs are alive and well in regular movie houses, art houses, museums, large format theatres et al. List some relatively recent large format and non-large format titles which have achieved strong exposure: Thin Blue Line, Hoop Dreams, Return With Honor, Roger and Me, Buena Vista Social Club, Burden of Dreams, come to mind in regular format. In large format Everest, Amazon, Mysteries of Egypt, Blue Planet, The Dream is Alive, Rolling Stones At The Max, The Living Sea, To Fly. The ASI Report will be helpful here, but we need numbers on Buena Vista Social Club and others as well.
3) We need to discuss another numbers game: member numbers I count 56 documentarian Members-At-Large, 43 from the Shorts Branch, and 9 possible/likely crossovers from other branches, for a total of 120 Documentary Branch members. This compares favorably with the 134 Visual Effects had went they started out in ’94. Furthermore, it can be argued that documentarians are historically underrepresented in the ranks for a couple of reasons. First, until 8 or 9 years ago (says Freida, we must check this out) there was no automatic mechanism for considering Doc nominees and winners for membership. Furthermore, as the Doc Exec Committee has until this year been comprised largely of non-documentarians, there was arguably a less pro-active effort made to reach out to qualified documentary filmmakers for membership A Branch would facilitate identifying outstanding candidates within the documentary community. By comparison, since its inception in ’94 Visual Effects membership has shot up to 198 as of this year!
I’m sure there are other improvements worth considering, but I’ve just run out of time if I’m to FAX this off before the weekend.
Talk to you both soon,
SPECIAL MEMBERSHIP REQUIERMENTS
From Academy Bylaws:
Article III, Section I (a) Membership shall be by invitation of the Board of Governors. Invitations to active membership shall be limited to those persons employed by motion picture producing companies, or credited with screen achievements, or who have otherwise achieved distinction in their respective fields of endeavor within the industry and who, in the opinion of the Board, are qualified for membership
To be considered for invitation to Academy membership in the Members-at-Large category, a documentarian must.
a) have a minimum of two director and/or producer credits on theatrical documentary films (one of which must have been within the last five years) of a caliber which, in the opinion of the executive committee, reflect the high standards of the Academy,
(b) have director and/or producer screen credit on a picture nominated for an Academy Documentary Award,
(c) . have, in the judgment of the Documentary Executive Committee, otherwise achieved unique distinction, earned special merit or made an outstanding contribution to documentary filmmaking.
Proposals must be accompanied by a letter from each sponsor which addresses, as specifically as possible, how the candidate meets one or another of the requirements above.
3. Membership Requirements
The committee has voted to define Members-At-Large membership requirements for Documentarians. Suggestions were: two distinguished credits with one credit within the last 5 years. Define director and producer credit on film. New wording pending until next meeting. Motion made by Frieda, seconded by Victoria – unanimous.
4. Branch Status
The committee discussed a petition to propose a Documentary Branch to the Board of Governors. The following comments were made: Arnold – one concern was are there enough documemtarians to warrant a branch? Bruce replied that there is no minimum number of members for any branch Arnold – felt it important to get representation on the board. Frieda – representation gives them voice, presently there is no one to represent their interest. Bruce expressed that the board was too cumbersome and has become too large making it difficult to function efficiently. Bruce stated that Documentaries were clearly a distinct craft. A motion was made by Frieda to endorse a Documentary Branch with three governors, seconded by Victoria – the vote was unanimous. Alec volunteered to construct the letter to General Membership.
5. Home Videos – No action was taken
6. New Business – Bruce passed out a letter from Charles Bernstein regarding the Documentary Film Award Finalists. Due to the time factor of the meeting, the letter was tabled until the next meeting. The next meeting will be scheduled in April.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at 3: IO P.M.
April 27, 1999
To: Friends and Supporters of the Short Documentary Films and Feature Animation Branch
Dear Friends and Supporters
Thank you for your good instincts and for your courage in supporting documentary short films. Unfortunately much of the drive to eliminate the Oscar for Documentary Short Subject is based on inaccurate and incomplete factual information. Because you made the decision to lend your name to this worthy cause we though you might appreciate a summary of current facts about the the viability of documentary short films.
We all know that the Academy has a history of eliminating award categories that have become obsolete, irrelevant, or inactive. is this fair? Of course it is. No one argues about eliminating the Oscar for Best Achievement in (Silent Film) Writing. But Documentary Short Subjects are not obsolete, nor irrelevant nor inactive. In fact, we believe that they are part of thriving world of commercially viable films providing a rich theatrical experience for millions of families and moviegoers worldwide.
Today’s documentaries are nothing like the old-style documentaries and educational short subjects the Academy recognized in the 1940s. Those days and those pictures are gone. But in their place a new style of documentary short film has exploded into the public theatrical arena. Documentaries today come in new packages, play new theatrical venues and formats, and thrive on new business models. And their numbers are growing. 998 was a record year, and the number of new high short documentary theatrical releases for 1999 should break that record by 50%. And where does one see this incredible proliferation of excellent documentary shorts? The answer: everywhere we love to take our children and grandchildren on Sunday afternoons.
They are playing in theaters at museums and other cultural institutions like the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, and the JFK Museum Theater. They are in theme parks, like those at Disney’s Epcot Center and the Universal studios in Florida. They are playing in theaters at world fairs and expositions, as well as in new special format theaters which are mushrooming all over the world. Many special format theaters like IMAX are being built in mainstream multi-screen cinema complexes right alongside theaters showing conventional feature films. Short documentaries are also playing at national visitor centers such as the National D-Day Museum, the Navy Memorial Theater and the Ellis Island Theater. All of these venues show film-based documentaries to sold out audiences who happily pay for the privilege.
And its not just special format films. Did you know that Robert Redford and General Cinema theaters recently announced plans to build Sundance Cinema Center a national chain of year-round 35mm, multi-screen theaters devoted exclusively to independent films including screens dedicated solely to documentary shorts and features? This is part of growing trend not the lonely exception. cinema circuits and booking cooperatives throughout the US (such as Landmark Theaters Pacific Film Archives Laemmle Theatres Paulson Theater Services) are programming between 25 and 40 short films per screen on hundreds of screens every year.
In addition more than 1,000 independent theaters — theaters like the Film Forum, San Rafael Film Center, Coolidge Corner, the Mayan Theater, the Zeitgeist, the Caolina Theater– include documentary, live-action and animated shorts a part of their regular programming with runs ranging from one week to six months or longer. And programs of sort films including short documentaries are consistently among the most popular events at film festivals (like Aspen, Sundance, the Palm Springs Film Festival and hundreds of others word-wide.) as well as art house and independent theaters (sic) chains across the country.
All of these short documentaries in all of these venues generate hundreds of millions of box office dollars every single year. That’s commercial viability wouldn’t you agree?
While short documentaries are indeed being produced in record numbers they are not being made for television. Whey? Because television, except for the “magazine” shows produced specifically for news series like 20 20 rarely plays documentary shorts. What you on TV (on PBS The Discovery Channel The History Channel etc.) are generally hour long programs or more. Most television-based documentary programs require a minimum of 52 minutes, and by definition only films under 40 minutes in length are considered Documentary Short Subjects. Despite the fact that no film today is produced without some financial dependence on ancillary rights such as television, home video, and other theatrical distribution, one survey found that less that 18% of Documentary Short Subjects nominated for an Oscar had any television co- financing at all.
Here’s the bottom line with respect to television: the rules for submission any documentary for Academy consideration, long or short, require that the picture be released first theatrically Period. That is our protection against he intrusion of television programming into the process. And if a mere seven-day theatrical art house run in Manhattan or LA County seems a bit thin as a qualifying criterion may we suggest that many wonderful films listed on our annual Reminders List of qualified features, including many foreign films, often receive only a week or two of similar distribution for their entire US run. Would any vote to eliminate the Oscar fo Best Foreign Film based on the limited theatrical release of a few of the foreign entries? Of course not.
As for the decline in the number of documentary shorts being offered for Academy consideration, the Academy itself has changed the rules, making it harder for some of the best and most successful documentary short films to qualify for Oscar consideration. For example AMPAS recognized festivals are today an important means of qualifying short live action and animation films. This process of qualifying only first prize winners for consideration, although not the sole source for qualifying brought more than 100 live action and 50 animation short films to the preliminary review committee in 1998. Reinstating film festival winners for Academy consideration in the Short Documentary Category, plus a few other rule adjustments, will help guarantee that the best of hundreds of documentary shorts produced independently each year qualify Academy consideration.
Here’s a simple truth: majority of the committee members who actually screened them believe the overall quality of documentary short subject remains very hot. Naturally, there’ll always be differences of opinion in matters of taste.Art by nature, is subjective, but if it’s true that the issues of quality should be decided by industry professionals who actually see the films then we don’t have a problem. On the other hand there is no question that the nominating procedures for documentary short subject could benefit from review and improvement.
It is only fair that due process consensus and respect for those affected by the change be applied to every after category. The rule change that redefined the maximum length of the short subject as 40 minutes, for example, was overwhelmingly approved by the Short Film and Feature Animation branch and the Documentary Executive Committee before being approved by the Academy Board of Governors. This was done because we all recognize that short films, like feature films, are simply becoming longer. Due process was also followed for Black-and-white cinematography which used to have his own Oscar until the CinematographersB ranch formally requested illumination of the category.
Unfortunately this is not the case for the category of Documentary Short Subject despite the fact that the Documentary Executive Committee voted overwhelmingly in October 1988 to retain a separate category for Short Documentary Subject, the Academy Rules Committee recommended that the Board of Governors combine documentary categories. This recommendation was not based on the decision of the very members such as the Academy documentarians, who were most affected and most knowledgeable. This is simply not a fair and proper way to proceed.
One final point. Academy’s mandate adopted in 1933 is to “advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures and to foster cooperation among the creative leadership of the industry for cultural, educational and technological progress.” Since short films have historically led the field for innovative technical achievement and brilliance in furthering the arts and sciences of motion pictures (synchronize sound, color, 3-D, widescreen and large screen formats, the use of digital technology, to list a few), the Academy – according to his own mandate – should continued to support this richly creative and often surprising film form.
And there you have it. A not so short way of saying that short documentaries aren’t important and vital part of our academy, and deserves consideration as such. Like a short story compared to the novel, short films are art forms different from their feature-length brethren. They should not be lumped together into a single category anymore than Best Actor and Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor should all be combined. And we all know that in, reality, combining the categories effectively eliminates the Oscar for Documentary Short Subject.
All facts and final points aside, the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject often provides us with the most touching, telling moments in an exceedingly long Oscar telecast. Remember Jessica Yu’s amusingly exaggerated ad lib about her dress costing more than her Oscar-winning film? Or this year’s charming winner Keiko Ibi who said
Thank you. Who would’ve thought a girl from Japan can make a movie about Jewish senior citizens and actually receive this award? …I would also like to thank the Academy for recognizing the short documentary film and I hope that you will continue to do so.
And so do we. We greatly appreciate your time and thank you for your consideration.
Carl Bell, June Foray, Bill Littlejohn
Governors of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch
Outline: The need for a Documentary Branch of The Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences:
l. The history of the relationship between the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Documentary form.
A. The first Awards for documentary given just after WWlI as fitting recognition by the industry for the work that its members had done to support the war effort.
I. List films and their social importance.
2. Cite individuals and their position within Hollywood.
a. Find historical quotes and citations.
B. It took that time of crisis for the industry to recognize what had always been an important part of filmmaking: the documentary.
1. What was it about that moment i.n time that made the Academy members pay attention, and how does that relate to its mission statement? (It would be great to see the minutes of the meetings in which the awards were first discussed and decided. These should be open for perusal by all members.)
2. Although some of this motivation is undoubtedly political. there must also be artistic and technical rationale.
C. A chronology of some of the most important titles and names to be associated with documentary nominations over the past 54 years.
1. Highlight the recognizable names involved in any production capacity. including narrators, several of ‘whom have been members of actors’ branch.
a. A few supportive statements by key individuals.
2. Emphasize the distribution of certain nominated documentaries by major studios, especially Disney nature films. —-
D. The creative forces that were encouraged by the Academy’s recognition of documentary films and the benefits that resulting creatiivity has had or the entire industry.
I. Mention of individuals and important companies that have significant involvement with both documentaries and AMPAS
a. Particularly note the relationship between ASC members who started in documentaries.
11. The artistic and technological history of the documentary form.
A. The earliest beginnings of actualities.
l. Since it is an Academy that very much includes the sciences-of film, the fact that earliest films were almost all documents is important.
2. The impetus to record reality as a natural phenomenon of all human communication extending from simple record-making to highest art.
a. How this has carried through in all arts and particularly media arts.
b. The role that the Academy plays in validating product which is often not considered “art.” How all forms of expression, including motion pictures, evolve to the status of art and the role of institutions such as AMPAS in that process.
B. Brief mention of the important individuals (not necessarily AMPAS members, but important in film history in general) who have contributed to the documentary form orhad their career enhanced by it.
C. A discussion of the technological advancements that, were initiated and/or refined by documentary.
1. Camera/Lighting: both technologically and artistically
4. Willingness to experiment.
III. The currents state of the art of the documentary as it relates to today’s entertainment industry especially the economic viability of documenetaries seen in theaters and other public venues.
A. Theatrical exhibition-materials from the independent study on retaining short form docs.
B. Festivals-ditto but updated.
C. The major cross-over of individual artists and craftspeople between fiction and documentary work.
l. Publicity and marketing as part of the documentary world and the film world.
2. Ancillary industries involved in documentary-labs, film suppliers, etc.
D. Where we are technologically in film’s development and the roles that documentaries play in pushing the envelope of technology.
IV. What is a documentary, does anyone have a definition, and what is the role of AMPAS in helping to create that definition? Modern audiences can usually distinguish the difference between a theatrical fiction feature and a sit-com. Modern audiences can also usually distinguish the difference between a documentary and reality-based video. But the distinctions continue to blur. By giving awards for short and feature documentaries the Academy contributes significantly to the definition of the fo1m. Should there not be a specific branch of the Academy to thoughtfully consider and comment upon this terribly important question?
V. Summarization of how the stated mission of the Academy relates to the documentary. ·
A. Restate the mission as it applies to documentary and documentarians.