Filmmakers ambivalent about docu script Oscar


Ever since the WGA introduced its documentary screenplay category in 2005, the next logical question has gone unspoken: Should the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences be looking to award the writing efforts of documentarians?

Surprisingly, that question draws a mixed response from documentarians themselves."I am honestly not sure that it's necessary," says Alex Gibney, who won the WGA award for 2005's "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." "It is a very complicated issue because some documentaries, strictly speaking, aren't written -- particularly verite documentaries. And very often the editor takes a tremendous role in structuring the story."

Gibney also speculates that creating such an award would just open the door for a slew of others. "Should there be an editing award? Should there be a directing award?"

So far, the Academy has agreed with Gibney, and there is no internal discussion over creating a documentary writing Oscar -- though there has been plenty of discussion over the documentary category rules.

"Everybody in documentaries worries so much about the changes in the qualifying rules from year to year -- and they change so frequently -- that the question of a writing award hasn't really come up," notes Patricia Finneran, festival director of Silverdocs, the AFI/Discovery Channel documentary festival. "They have had very specific rules about screening in Los Angeles and New York and also having 14 exhibitions in 10 states in order to qualify. The focus has been on changing that. The idea of a writing award is very nice, but the first goal has been for documentarians to get the qualifying process to be simpler, and my understanding is the Academy will change it next year."

Nor are other key players in the documentary field rooting for a new Oscar. Sandra J. Ruch, executive director of the International Documentary Association, says she was "delighted" that the WGA created its award, but that documentarians are battling far bigger issues with the Academy, including keeping the Oscar for documentary short.

"That was almost lost," she says. "We are thrilled that didn't happen."

At the same time, she notes, often the documentary's writer and director are the same person, which could result in the best documentary winner essentially picking up two Oscars for one piece of work.

Still, she says, "Any more acknowledgment for people working in nonfiction is worthy. It is a very hard field to be in, and recognition is extremely important."