The International Documentary Association is launching an awards-season screening series that will take the place of its annual DocuWeeks theatrical showcase, which is being discontinued after 16 years of qualifying films for the Academy Awards.
The IDA Documentary Screening Series, IDA executive director Michael Lumpkin told TheWrap, will run from September through January and will allow members of the IDA and all other organizations that give out documentary awards to attend special screenings with filmmaker Q&As.
It will not qualify those films for the Oscars, but will help the docs boost their visibility with awards voters.
"The screening series allows us to take the relationship that the IDA has with the documentary community and use that to do something that will benefit films and voters for all the documentary awards," said Lumpkin (left, with Werner Herzog) of the program.
The DocuWeeks showcase, he said, was an anomaly of sorts for the 31-year-old IDA, which gives out the IDA Awards and conducts year-round programs of filmmaker services, education and advocacy.
"It was a big task for the IDA to come in once a year and successfully execute the theatrical release of documentaries," said Lumpkin of the three-week-long DocuWeeks program, which qualified hundreds of films for Oscars, 30 of which were nominees and seven of which (including "Taxi to the Dark Side," below) won. "Doing theatrical runs took a lot of the organization's attention, and it was not really part of the core of what the IDA does."
The creation of the screening series and the elimination of DocuWeeks comes at a time when the Academy is revamping its own qualifying rules. New Oscar rules might have killed DocuWeeks as a qualifying showcase last year had the Los Angeles Times not agreed to run reviews of all the films chosen by the IDA for its showcase.
"We weren't really reacting to the Academy changes," said Lumpkin. "This is a confluence of several different things, including us reaching out to our membership to get a sense of what is needed for the IDA."
Lumpkin said the IDA is still working out the details of how films will be chosen for the series, which is expected to include about 15 screenings. Those screenings will be invitation-only, with admission offered to IDA members, Academy voters and the members of every Hollywood guild that gives out awards to documentaries.
The post-screening interviews with filmmakers will be recorded and made available on the IDA website, YouTube and through the participating filmmakers.
Films will pay to participate in the series, as they did for DocuWeeks. "We hope that the screening series works for us financially," said Lumpkin. "It's like a lot of the things that non-profits do: It takes resources from a lot of different areas to make things work. It'll take sponsors to make this financially viable for us."
Asked whether he expects to hear complaints about the demise of a showcase responsible for qualifying the Oscar winners "Born Into Brothels," "Smile Pinki" and "The Blood of Yingzhou District," among others, Lumpkin said he was reassured by the fact that filmmakers still have many avenues to qualify their films.
"It's not like DocuWeeks was only game in town, and now it's gone," he said. "It generally qualified maybe 10 to 15 percent of the total number of films that qualified, and looking at those numbers gave us confidence that we are moving in the right direction for this organization."