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New Academy Rules: A Statement from IDA

By IDA Editorial Staff

Dear Friend of IDA,

The International Documentary Association applauds the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for striving to make their selection process for documentary films more transparent and democratic. As an organization that has been presenting awards to documentary films for 27 years, IDA has frequently reevaluated its awards criteria and selection process for the same reasons and made a number of changes over the last three years in hopes of creating the most thorough and inclusive procedure possible to effectively recognize the art of nonfiction storytelling.

Since news of the Academy’s changes broke on Sunday, many online discussions have referenced IDA’s DocuWeeks program as a way documentary filmmakers can qualify their films for an Academy Award. A number of things said and inferred about DocuWeeks need to be corrected:

  • For the past 15 years DocuWeeks has screened documentary features and shorts in theatrical runs, qualifying these films for Academy Award consideration and adapting its program yearly to revised Academy rules. Each year, we follow the Academy’s rules to the letter and present films in theatrical runs precisely as defined by the Academy. In 15 years, 186 films have qualified for Academy consideration through DocuWeeks.

  • DocuWeeks is presented by IDA as a valuable service to the international documentary filmmaking community. This is reflected in the number of entries received to the program each year. DocuWeeks is a curated program. Films cannot participate in DocuWeeks by just paying a fee. In 2011 86 feature documentaries were submitted to IDA for consideration. Of those, 17 features were selected to be part of the program. Selection is made through a 12-person screening committee watching and discussing entries over a six-week period. Our films are thoughtfully considered and chosen to represent the best of the submissions across a diverse range of films.

  • In 2011 the cost to participate in DocuWeeks as a feature was between $14,000 and $20,000, depending on format and running time. This fee covered the costs of the theatrical runs in both New York and Los Angeles as well as the paid advertising in designated print publications as required by the Academy. These fees are comparable to what a filmmaker would spend for a four-wall run to qualify or a service deal with a traditional distributor for qualifying. Many films participating in DocuWeeks choose to spend additional funds on publicists, travel, additional advertising, etc. Our films play in mainstream theaters in Los Angeles and New York, and are not hidden screenings for the purposes of qualification alone. We actively court press for our filmmakers, and celebrate their films with events and discussions during the duration of the program.

  • Since 1997, 17 documentaries qualified through DocuWeeks have been nominated for the Oscar® and 7 have won the coveted award. These 7 represent over 25% of the Oscars® presented to documentaries over the past twelve years. DocuWeeks-qualified films that have received the Oscar® include Smile Pinki (2008), Taxi To The Dark Side (2007), The Blood of Yingzhou District (2006), Born into Brothels (2004), Chernobyl Heart (2003), The Personals (1998) and The Last Days (1998).
The Academy’s new rules will certainly have an impact on IDA’s DocuWeeks program. IDA will be evaluating that impact over the coming weeks and asking for further information and clarification from the Academy as well as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times editorial staffs.


Nonetheless, it appears the landscape for documentaries vying for the Oscar will be significantly changed by the new rules proposed by the Academy.  Some seem to favor the well-funded films as well as the better-known filmmakers, but as with any new system the real test will be implementing these rules in 2012. In the meantime, 2012 will also see the celebration of the 28th Annual International Documentary Awards, focused exclusively on the documentary form, and rewarding many exceptional films and filmmakers, some of who would qualify for Academy consideration alongside many who would not. It is our goal to find and recognize the very best in the documentary form worldwide, and we pride ourselves on the number of international films that are nominated and recognized by the IDA each year. Documentaries are not a branch of what we do, they are all that we do.

We are also reaching out to the documentary film community and asking for your response to the Academy’s recent announcement. If this decision affects you in any way, please tweet at us or leave your thoughts on these new rules in the comments via the comments link above. We’re interested in hearing your opinions on this recent development.


Michael Lumpkin
Executive Director