• Ava DuVernay and honoree Norman Lear at the 2016 IDA Documentary Awards

  • 2015 host Tig Notaro

  • Jane Fonda and Andie MacDowell at the 2006 IDA Documentary Awards

  • Barbara Kopple and Robert Redford at the 2014 IDA Documentary Awards

  • Morgan Freeman at the 2006 IDA Documentary Awards

  • Werner Herzog presents Career Achievement Awards to Les Blank at the 2011 Documentary Awards

  • 2017 host Maz Jobrani

The IDA Documentary Awards is the world's most prestigious event dedicated to the documentary genre, celebrating the best nonfiction films and programs of the year. It seeks to represent excellence in the documentary field from around the world, by emerging and established docmakers. 

2020 Call For Entries Now Open!

Become an IDA member today for discounted submission fees. 

Access Submission Portal

2020 Timeline

May 18: Call For Entries Opens

June 16: Call For Entries Early Deadline 

July 28: Call For Entries Regular Deadline

July 28: Call For Entries Late Submission Request Deadline

August 4: Call For Entries Extended Deadline

October 28: Shortlists Announcement

(Dates subject to change)


Rules and Regulations

1. Eligibility

1.1 The eligibility period begins October 1, 2019, and includes any film, series or audio documentary completed or scheduled to premiere on or before December 31, 2020. Series entries are eligible for the awards year in which the majority of their episodes were broadcast or uploaded.

1.2 Projects may be submitted in any year they are eligible—either the calendar year in which they are completed or the year of their broadcast or theatrical/film festival premiere. Submissions may be withdrawn from competition prior to the shortlist announcement release. The submitter must contact awards@documentary.org to withdraw a project from competition prior to the official shortlist announcement. Deferred submissions and entry fees may be rolled over to the following year’s competition. Submission fees will not be refunded.  

1.3 Final eligibility of a submission is determined by IDA, including any interpretation required of specific rules and/or submissions criteria.

2. Submission

2.1 Entries are accepted from May 18, 2020, through Aug 4, 2020. Requests for deadline exceptions for eligible projects expected to be completed after Aug 4, 2020 are considered on a case-by-case basis. Requests for deadline exceptions should be made no later than July 28, 2020 to this form. For questions and updates about late submissions, contact awards@documentary.org. A fee of $100 for IDA Members and $150 for non-members will be added to submissions accepted after Aug 4, 2020. Waiver codes will not be eligible for use on late submissions.

2.2 If the screener is submitted through a password-protected link, both the link and the password should remain live until October 28, 2020, or it will result in submission ineligibility.

2.3 Only the submitted version of the project will be reviewed by the judging committees. Revised versions are not accepted.

2.4 Projects may be entered into only one of the main categories. Single episodes of a series may also be submitted to the Feature or Short category if the individual episode complies with those eligibility requirements.

2.5 Submissions for all categories must be made on documentary.org/awards/submit. 

2.6 All non-English language entries must be in their original language and subtitled in English.

2.7 Payment may be made by credit card online at the time of submission. Checks of any kind will not be accepted during the 2020 season.  If you are choosing to pay for your entries via ACH transfer, please contact awards@documentary.org immediately after completing your submission to obtain IDA's banking information. If the ACH payment is not received within seven (7) days of entry, a hold will be put on your submission. Entry fees will not be refunded.

3. Categories

3.1 Feature Documentary: Individual, stand-alone documentary, more than 40 minutes in length. Submissions in this category are eligible for Best Feature, ABC News VideoSource Award and Pare Lorentz Award. (see section 4).

3.2 Short Documentary: Individual, stand-alone documentary, less than or equal to 40 minutes in length. Submissions in this category are eligible for Best Short and Pare Lorentz Award (see section 4).

3.3 Documentary Series: We currently don't accept other forms of unscripted programs such as talk shows, reality, competition programs or programs that consist primarily of news reporting.

3.3.1 Curated Series: An ongoing documentary series in which each episode stands on its own, created by different producing teams, and are unified by a high-level theme (e.g. Independent Lens; POV; American Masters). Episodes should be more than 50 minutes in length. The series may be created without an end in sight, and can return indefinitely season after season. 

3.3.2 Episodic Series: An ongoing documentary series comprised of episodes that are conceived and produced as part of the series, not as stand-alone entities. Each episode should be more than 30 minutes in length, produced with a continuity of production supervision and unified through a topic, approach, characters, or narrative (e.g. Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown; Planet Earth II). The series is created without an end in sight, and can return season after season.

3.3.3 Multi-Part Documentary: A documentary comprised of multiple episodes, each more than  30 minutes in length. The series is conceived and constructed with a beginning and an end, and all the episodes are viewed in order to create a complete story and/or support a complete theme (i.e. Wild Wild Country; The Defiant Ones).

3.3.4 Short-Form Series: A documentary series that is comprised of episodes each 30 minutes or less in length. Series in this category may be available on broadcast, online and/or have been produced specifically for a web portal (e.g. Field of Vision; The New York Times Op-Docs). The series may tell a complete story, or may be intended to continue indefinitely. 

3.4 Audio Documentary: We currently accept both stand-alone and documentary series. A stand-alone audio documentary may be either a one-off program or a single or multi-part documentary episode from a series (i.e. “The Problem We All Live With” from This American Life) that stands on its own as a documentary on a single subject or theme. A series is comprised of multiple episodes, conceived and constructed with a beginning and an end, with all the episodes being listened in order to create a complete story and/or support a complete theme (i.e. NYT's Caliphate, Serial, LA Times' Dirty John, APM’s In the Dark). Radio shows and podcasts that consist primarily of news reporting, interviews and conversational episodes are not eligible.

3.5 Best Music Documentary: A feature documentary that has music as the central character of the film and/or a pivotal component of the storytelling. 

3.6 David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award: A short or feature-length film or video, produced by registered, degree-seeking student(s). This award recognizes exceptional achievement in nonfiction film and video production at the university level and brings greater public and industry awareness to the work of students in the documentary field. PRIZE: $1,000 cash honorarium.

3.7  Creative Recognition Awards: Only feature projects are eligible. A submission in the Feature category is not required. Onscreen credit must be given for a film to be eligible for a Creative Recognition Award (e.g. a film without a credited writer is not eligible for the Best Writing award).

3.7.1. Best Cinematography: The IDA Documentary Award for Best Cinematography is given to the credited cinematographer or director of photography whose work represents artistic and/or technical excellence and a notable contribution to the documentary's artistry and storytelling.

3.7.2 Best Editing: The IDA Documentary Award for Best Editing recognizes exemplary editing, to which the editing is a major contributing factor to the film’s quality. 

3.7.3 Best Music Score: The IDA Documentary Award for Best Music Score recognizes exceptional use of originally composed music and scoring in a film. This award is not meant for best use of licensed tracks or to recognize music supervision. The Best Music Award will be given to the person(s) credited with “Original Score by,” “Composed by,” “Original Music by” or equivalent credit.  A film must contain that credit onscreen to be considered.

3.7.4 Best Writing: The IDA Documentary Award for Best Writing recognizes exemplary skill and craft in writing, through plotting and guiding the narrative path of the film. This may be through narration, or through developing an outline for the film carried out in the editing. The Best Writing Award will be given to the person(s) credited with “Written by”, “Writer or equivalent credit”. A film must contain that credit onscreen to be considered.

4. Additional Awards

4.1 Please submit to one or more additional awards if your project is eligible. In the submission form, the submitter must option to send their film for consideration should it fit the following criteria. Please submit your project to the Best Feature, Best Short, and Best Music Documentary category and then check one or more of the additional awards in the special awards section to be considered.

4.2 ABC News VideoSource Award (Sponsored): A feature documentary that uses news footage as an integral component in a documentary. "News footage" is defined as factual footage, contemporary or historical, shot for use in context such as newsreels, news specials, magazines or nightly news. "Integral component" is defined as footage that is central to the structure, meaning and impact of the work. PRIZE: $5,000 cash honorarium and research time at the ABC News VideoSource facility in New York. If there is more than one award recipient, the cash prize will be split equally between them. Please submit your project to the Best Feature and the Best Music Documentary category and then check "ABC News VideoSource" in the special awards section.

4.3 Pare Lorentz Award (Sponsored): Given to a feature or short documentary that reflects the spirit and tradition of Pare Lorentz’s work. A successful candidate for the Pare Lorentz Award will demonstrate one or more of Lorentz's central concerns—the appropriate use of the natural environment, justice for all, and the illumination of pressing social problems—presented as a compelling story through skillful filmmaking. A Pare Lorentz Award exhibits the highest production values and artistry in its directing, writing, music composition, camera work, editing and research, and exemplifies the spirit and tradition of Pare Lorentz’s work—his passion for people and the land, and his quest for a more fruitful coexistence between the two. Entries in the Feature and Short categories are eligible for this award. PRIZE: $2,500 cash honorarium.  If there is more than one award recipient, the cash prize will be split equally between them. Please submit your project to the Feature or Short Documentary category and then check "Pare Lorentz Award" in the special awards section.

5. Deadlines and Fees

  • CFE Open: May 18, 2020 10:00 AM PDT
  • Early Deadline: June 16, 2020 11:59 PM PDT
  • Regular Deadline: July 28, 2020 11:59 PM PDT
  • Late Submission Request Deadline July 28, 2020 11:59 PM PDT
  • Extended Deadline: Aug 4, 2020 11:59 PM PDT
  • Shortlist Announcement: Oct 28, 2020 10:00 AM PDT
Early Deadline (June 16, 2020) IDA Members Non-Members
Feature Documentary $150 $195
Short Documentary $95 $124
Documentary Series $347 $450
Audio Documentary $127 $165
David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award $45 $59
Music Documentary $100 $130
Creative Recognition (Writing, Editing, Cinematography, and Original Score) $100 $130
Regular Deadline (July 28, 2020) IDA Members Non-Members
Feature Documentary $188 $244
Short Documentary $119 $155
Documentary Series $434 $563
Audio Documentary $159 $206
David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award $57 $74
Music Documentary $126 $163
Creative Recognition (Writing, Editing, Cinematography, and Original Score) $126 $163
Extended Deadline (August 4, 2020) IDA Members Non-Members
Feature Documentary $235 $305
Short Documentary $149 $194
Documentary Series $542 $704
Audio Documentary $199 $258
David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award $72 $93
Music Documentary $157 $204
Creative Recognition (Writing, Editing, Cinematography, and Original Score) $157 $204
Late Submission Fee (see item 2.1 for details) IDA Members Non-Members
(Additional) $100 $150

6. Submission

Amazon Web Services, OpenWater's hosting service for uploading screeners, is the same service that handles Netflix and other video streaming services. As such, AWS is compliant with the MPAA's guidelines for digital media security. (For details: https://aws.amazon.com/compliance/mpaa/)

File Uploads must be in any of the following formats:

  • MP4 container with H.264 video and AAC or MP3 audio
  • WebM container with VP8 video and Vorbis audio
  • HLS using an MPEG-2 TS container to house H.264 video and AAC or MP3 audio
  • Smooth Streaming using an fmp4 container to house H.264 video and AAC audio
  • MP3 container with MP3 audio:
  • MP4 container with AAC audio
  • OGG container with Vorbis audio 

No physical DVD screeners will be accepted.

7. Judging

Judging of the IDA Documentary Awards is based on overall creative excellence. Committees of filmmaking and industry professionals screen all entries and select all nominees. Award-winners in the Feature and Short categories are selected  from the nominees by IDA Members. For all other awards, blue ribbon panels select award-winners from the nominees.

8. Best Feature and Best Short: Nomination and Member Voting

Nominees for Best Feature and Best Short agree to provide a closed-captioned copy of their film to be uploaded to IDA’s secure server for viewing by IDA Members in voting for winners of Best Feature and Best Short, and materials needed to create a nominee clip reel. A clip from each nominated project will be created by IDA for inclusion in the nominee clip reel to be played during the awards show. If your submission is nominated, you agree to provide:

  • Textless version of the trailer delivered as a high resolution QuickTime file.
  • Permission to use all delivered materials during the event and for any publicity and promotional purposes related to the IDA Documentary Awards.

Entry in this competition grants IDA, its sponsors, and media partners the right to use clips, photographs, and biographical data from submitted and nominated films for publicity and promotional purposes on all existing and future media platforms throughout the universe, including but not limited to websites, online, streaming, for broadcast, cable and satellite, in perpetuity. 

Committees of filmmaking and industry professionals screen all entries and select all nominees for all the categories in a thorough process. The winners for the Best Feature and Best Short categories are chosen by IDA Members. The winners for the craft categories are chosen by blue ribbon panels made up of editors, writers, composers and cinematographers. For all other awards, the committees select the winners. Voting for the IDA Documentary Awards is an exclusive benefit of IDA Members.

While we publicly encourage individuals to join e IDA to vote for the Best Feature and Best Short of the year, we discourage active private lobbying or mass sign-ups after nominations have been announced that are clearly from one production company or distributor designed to skew the voting process. Our goal is to celebrate and recognize the voices of all members of the documentary community. You are welcome to promote the nominations on social media. Please ensure that your campaigns are fair and transparent to other nominated films. 

How Member voting works: IDA Members agree to our voting terms, then receive online access to a secure judging portal with screeners for Best Feature and Best Short nominees. They are then invited to choose their top three films in each category. A first choice vote allots 1 point to the film selected, second choice gets 1/2 point and third choice gets 1/3 point. The feature and short receiving the highest number of points wins the award.

9. Acceptance of Rules

Your digital entry form constitutes full acceptance of the IDA Documentary Awards rules and regulations detailed here. The person listed as submitter in the submission form warrants that they are the owners of, or are authorized representatives of the owners of, the submitted production, including the copyright therein, that they have the right to grant IDA the use of the submitted production in each and all of the rights herein granted; that they have or will obtain all required authorizations, consents and releases from others, including but not limited to those who appear recognizable in the submitted production or who rendered services in connection therewith; and that IDA’s use of the submitted production as provided herein will not violate the rights of another person. IDA reserves the right to resolve all questions not specifically addressed here. Any disputes that may arise concerning the IDA Documentary Awards shall be determined according to the laws of the State of California. Failure to comply with these rules will render the entry ineligible. Entry fees will not be refunded.

Click here to view the full Rules & Regulations