For most of the world, the press release sent out by the Academy one week ago today seemed simple and direct. Headed "Oscar Credits Determined for Documentary Short Subjects", the release was only somewhat notable in that it announced the first Oscar nomination for Mitchell Block, a veteran player and somewhat controversial figure in the documentary world, for the short film POSTER GIRL, which was directed by Sara Nesson.
But what seemed simple on the outside masked an fierce dispute within the Academy's Documentary Branch. Two different committees had ruled that Block had not done enough work on the film to qualify for an Oscar nod, but those decisions were overturned by a four-person review committee that represented the Academy's Board of Governors. How and why the decision went to the four-person committee is at the crux of the conflict.
Perhaps none of this would be known outside of the Academy if Freida Lee Mock, the Oscar winning filmmaker and former Doc Branch Governor, had not emailed some of the details to Roger Ebert, who last Friday wrote about the dispute and then quickly deleted the blog post, reportedly after hearing from Movie City News' David Poland. By late Friday afternoon, all that remained was Poland's own post, which was sympathetic to Block and critical of Mock, but which remained somewhat vague as to what actually happened.
While Poland suggested that the situation was a smear job against Block, conversations with a number of Academy members over the weekend reveal a much more complicated - and a far more divisive - battle than has been publicly made known. And while the heart of the dispute rests with the Academy's real desire to limit inappropriate producer credits, it's set against a backdrop of a series of personal grudges that date back to the late 1980s.