One of my favorite new doc sites of the past few months is the new(ish) blog over at P.O.V.'s website, an active group blog with a number of contributors. (Sundance seems to be launching their own news-ish bloggish site - DocSource - dedicated to Sundance-supported nonfiction as well, and the IDA is planning on relaunching their site soon with more content and features. It's a veritable doc blog renaissance.)
Last week, Tom Roston used his weekly Friday column to examine our upcoming awards effort. There's a lot of interesting ideas in his piece and you should go read the whole thing, but here's some of the highlights:
"Ah, the doc world never sleeps. There I was, slowly plotting my next blog post about the January 12 deadline for submitting Oscar nomination ballots: I was going to make an 11th hour pitch for Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, the fantastic doc based on writings by U.S. soldiers in Iraq by Richard Robbins. But along comes an exciting announcement: Doc filmmaker and blogger AJ Schnack and online indie film distributor IndiePix are creating a new nonfiction film award ceremony because, as Schnack says on his blog, "there should be awards for nonfiction that [recognize] the breadth of the genre and [include] the crafts of cinematography and editing and producing."
Awesome! It's about time. Documentaries have evolved so much that they ought to be recognized for what they are now — films. Indeed, the Oscar shortlist was a pretty uninspired one to pick from and...
But wait. Schnack and co. announced their shortlist and my little miracle baby, Operation Homecoming...isn't on the list. What the...?!?!"
After wondering about another of his 2007 favorites, WAR/DANCE, and generally commending the effort, Roston continues:
"1. The new award's nominating committee is made up solely of festival programmers, and to me, that's a pretty dicey move. We all know that festivals sponsor filmmakers and they benefit from associations when attending films go on to future success (like for example, win an award). On the other hand, programmers are the best placed people to see every doc, and to know what's out there. Is there some way to balance the impact of the twelve programmers on the nominating committee? I'd love to see critics (representing different regions of the U.S.) have some say in this, but I assume few see more than twenty docs in a given year. No answers provided here by me, but I thought I'd raise the question.
2. You've got to lose IndiePix. You can't have an awards ceremony sponsored by a company that has a vested interest in the results. IndiePix co-financed one of the shortlisted films, Billy the Kid, and although Schnack says the voting programmers were unaware of that fact, this just can't fly. (I mean, what if a movie studio sponsored the Oscars... Wait, Academy Awards broadcaster ABC is owned by Disney! Never mind. You just can't win.)"
Some thoughts. First of all, as I said in one of my initial posts on the topic, there are bound to be one or two favorites that didn't get on this shortlist. I was bummed that one of my favorite films of the year, HELVETICA, wasn't on the list and I really wished that KING OF KONG was there too. I'm sure that you, like Tom, have yours as well.
OPERATION HOMECOMING is a film I liked. It's probably just outside of my top 20. There's an animated sequence early in the film that I thought was particularly groundbreaking and affective. And Richard Robbins has had a great awards season, what with the Academy shortlist, an IDA finalist and recently a DGA nomination.
The impetus for the new award (and the issue with the Academy) isn't the snubbing of one or two films, but the problem with a broken system that leads to a shortlist lacking many of the year's most artistic and important films. And as we saw today, that system fails foreign language films just as often as it fails nonfiction.
A few dissents. I disagree with Roston's assertion that film critics would be a good way to "balance" out the impact of the people who actually are watching the films. If there are more than a handful of critics who saw more than half of the 76 films that the committee considered, I'd be surprised. That doesn't even take into account the fact that far too many film critics couldn't tell you the difference between direct cinema and cinema verite.
I'm not quite sure what Roston means when he writes "we all know that festivals sponsor filmmakers and they benefit from associations when attending films go on to future success". If he wonders whether nominators will only vote for films from their own festivals, I can assure him that this is not the case (although if they did it may not be that surprising considering that the programmer has, likely, programmed a film because she/he arguably thought that it was a better film than one that they didn't program).
I can't tell how serious Roston is about his IndiePix complaint since he purposely undercuts his own argument. These types of "conflict of interest" questions are common in the small and incestuous world of independent film, but for the same reasons that I felt it was essential to remove my own film - even the contributions of my collaborators - from consideration, I felt that IndiePix' involvement, unknown to nominators, should not disqualify BILLY. It was my decision and I'm comfortable that it was the correct one. I'm equally comfortable (more than comfortable really) having IndiePix as a presenting sponsor. They have tons of resources that they are contributing to the effort and, frankly, we wouldn't be able to do it without them.
We look forward to joining them as well as many folks in Park City on Sunday at the Wall Street Journal Cafe when we announce the nominees for the inaugural awards.
Thanks to Tom for adding to the debate - and good luck to OPERATION HOMECOMING and all the shortlisted films next Tuesday.