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Fast Foreword: The Editor's Column, Winter 2016

By Tom White

Dear Readers,

It’s Awards Season, that high-stakes, high-rolling extravaganza that runs from the Toronto International Film Festival to Oscars night, and for documentary makers it’s an exhausting, exhilarating process to hit the campaign trail for such a low-odds/high-yield prize. Once the film is qualified, then the race begins: First to the Short List, next to the Nominees and, finally, to the Winners, bringing down the curtain on a bi-coastal hobnobbing marathon.

Along the road to Oscar, there are other high-profile honors—the Independent Sprits, the Gothams, the IDAs, the critics’ awards, the top ten lists and the craft guild awards. Those are all part of the campaign too, and they surely add to a docmaker’s Awards Season cachet. And campaigns are expensive—there are publicists, screenings, For Your Consideration ads, travel, interviews. And there is the opportunity cost of suspending other projects while keeping the revenue flowing in as expenses flow out.

So what does an awards campaign cost, anyway? And is it all worth it? Are the best films getting the attention during Awards Season, or are the best capitalized films getting the attention? In this issue, we hoped to find, if not specific answers, at least anecdotal ones that we can pass on to you as you think about what it means to keep your eyes on the prize. Darianna Cardilli talks to publicists and filmmakers who have been through Oscar Fever, and they share their insights, advice and criticism about the campaign trail.

But whatever level you reach—the short list, a nomination or an award—there has to be a return on investment, right? Filmmakers Marshall Curry, James Longley and Roger Ross Williams reflect with Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson on how they parlayed their honors into getting their next project made and enhancing their career profiles.

On the other side of the rainbow is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself, where awards manager Tom Oyer has the challenging job of working with the Documentary Branch to modify and modernize the rules for qualifying your film—and then explaining them all to you. He shares with Addie Morfoot his thoughts on the process and how the Academy has tried to accommodate this ever-morphing world of multi-platform exhibition with staying true to the Academy’s mission to honor theatrical documentaries.

Finally, Caty Borum Chattoo, co-director of the venerable Center for Media and Social Impact, has been working with her team on an in-depth study of the doc features that were short-listed and nominated over the last two years. We’ll publish her findings on in the weeks leading up to the Oscars.


Yours in actuality,

Tom White