Under new rules announced Friday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, multi-part documentaries like the most recent best documentary Oscar winner O.J.: Made in America will not be eligible for an award at future Oscars. The new rule says that “multi-part or limited series are not eligible for awards consideration."
Produced by ESPN, which aired the 467-minute documentary in five-parts, O.J. also played in a number of theaters, which made it eligible for under the existing rules. But while the film received numerous awards and its director Ezra Edelman maintained that he had always envisioned the project as one long film, there were those in the doc community who questioned whether it should have been treated as a film — rather than a TV series — for awards purposes.
Moving forward, the new rule would preclude other producers of multi-part documentary from qualifying them for Oscar consideration by booking them into theaters. In announcing the rule change, the Academy said that "the Documentary Branch Executive Committee will resolve all questions of eligibility and rules" about specific films.
There does, however, appear to be one way a doc like O.J. could make the cut. O.J. played numerous festivals where it was regarded as a film in the run-up to its Academy-qualifying run, and if producers of a multi-part project followed that route, they could still argue to the branch's exec committee that their film deserved consideration.
For the category of feature animation, the Academy announced another rule that also could affect what animated films get nominated. Under existing procedures, a nominating committee composed of members of the Short Films and Feature Animation Branch reviewed submissions and voted for the nominees. Once nominees were announced, the Academy full membership then voted for the final winner.
Under the new rule, members of the nominating committee don't have to come just from the shorts/animation branch but can be drawn from the entire Academy membership. As the rule explains, "Invitations to join the nominating committee will be sent to all active Academy members, rather than a select craft-based group."
As feature animation has become a big business, more Academy members in other branches — from cinematographers and directors to writers and actors — are now involved in animation, so the new rule would give more members from other branches a say in what films get nominated. But it could also shift the type of films that get nominated.
The committee drawn from the shorts/animated branch hasn't ignored studio movies, like Disney's Zootopia, the most recent winners, but it has also favored smaller, often-hand-drawn or stop-motion animated films, like recent nominees My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle, and smaller indie distributors like GKids Films. The new rule, by bringing a wider array of voices into the nominating process, could end up favoring more popular wide releases from the mainstream studios.
The nomination voting for in the animated feature category, which previously employed a numerical scoring system, will now use the preferential voting method, which is in use in other categories.