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Documentaries line up for heated Oscar race

September 23, 2005

By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – The long march to the
Oscars began in earnest this month as feature films with
Academy Award aspirations began popping up across the festival
circuit from Venice to Telluride to Toronto.

But even though the contenders are all jostling for
position, there are still plenty of twists and turns in the
road ahead. At this point last year, the eventual best picture
Oscar winner “Million Dollar Baby” was only a tiny blip on the
radar.

By contrast, the race to capture the prize for best
documentary feature is already well under way. Documentary
filmmakers hoping to compete in the short-subject and
feature-length categories were required to submit entry forms,
exhibition plans and 20 VHS tapes or DVDs to the Academy by
September 1 so that the screening committees could begin their
work.

One indication of some of the films that could stake a bid
for their spot in the limelight came Wednesday, when the
International Documentary Assn. announced its finalists for its
Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards, which will be
handed out in Los Angeles on December 9.

The IDA nominated 13 feature film nominees. Some of the
better-known titles in its lineup include Michele Ohayon’s
“Cowboy del Amor,” about a man who finds Mexican wives for U.S.
men; Alex Gibney’s “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,”
about the infamous financial scandal; Barbara Frank’s “The Last
Campaign,” a look at Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential bid;
Marilyn Agrelo’s “Mad Hot Ballroom,” about a ballroom dance
competition for New York kids; Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam
Shapiro’s “Murderball,” about rugby-playing quadriplegics; and
Eugene Jarecki’s “Why We Fight,” a look at American foreign
policy.

But the IDA list isn’t necessarily an indication of which
pics the Academy will choose. Last year, the IDA nominated just
one film, Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s “Born Into Brothels,”
that also made the Academy’s list of nominees. (“Brothels”
ultimately took home the feature-length documentary Oscar.)

In fact, the IDA list omits two of the year’s
most-talked-about documentaries, which have both qualified for
Academy consideration: Luc Jacquet’s “March of the Penguins”
and Paul Provenza’s “The Aristocrats.” In fact, “Penguins” is
so popular, with ticket sales of $70 million and counting, that
it also could figure in such other categories as cinematography
and score. And, though a longshot, it could even make a play
for best picture consideration.

This year, the Academy has relaxed its complicated rules
regarding TV airings. Although TV and Internet airings are
still prohibited before a film’s Oscar-qualifying run, if a
film meets certain criteria — playing a minimum of 25
commercial public exhibitions for at least two consecutive days
in at least 15 states — then that film also is free to air on
TV or the Internet. (Otherwise, a film can’t appear on TV for
six months after the beginning of its qualifying run, which
requires a week’s engagement in L.A. or New York as well as
two-day engagements in at least four other cities.)

Under the complex rules, “Enron” — whose release by
Magnolia Pictures on April 22 was accompanied by a one-day
day-and-date screening on 2929 Prods.’ HDNet — qualifies for
consideration this year thanks to qualifying runs that quietly
took place in advance of its official opening.

However, “Why We Fight,” which Sony Pictures Classics plans
to release early next year, has been ruled ineligible because
it has had at least three TV airings in Norway, Sweden and
Finland.

And so the nonfiction battle begins.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter




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