Academy Rejects Challenge to 'Citizenfour' Oscar Eligibility (Exclusive)

Citizenfour_Inset_Horace_B._Edwards_Laura_Poitas - H 2014

Citizenfour_Inset_Horace_B._Edwards_Laura_Poitas - H 2014

A Kansas City man who filed a civil suit Friday against Edward Snowden, director Laura Poitras and others involved in the making of the documentary Citizenfour has also taken his case to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, arguing that the movie should be disqualified for Oscar consideration. He based his claim on the fact that footage that Poitras shot of Snowden appeared online in 2013, arguing that violates Academy rules that require a film to have a theatrical run before it appears online or on TV.

But after reviewing the case, the Academy has decided that the movie is eligible, an Academy spokesman told THR.

Citizenfour is among 15 films that have been shortlisted for the best documentary feature Oscar, and after an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run that began on Oct. 24, it is eligible in other categories as well.

Horace B. Edwards — an 89-year-old former secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation and a retired Navy officer who once held security clearance — has no ties to the entertainment industry. But according to court documents, he believes that Snowden has done damage to the country, and he apparently does not want to see him celebrated in any way. 

Read Laura Poitras on Snowden Doc 'Citizenfour,' Possibility the Fugitive Will Return to U.S.

In addition to suing the film's producers in Kansas federal court "on behalf of the American people" for "misuse of purloined information disclosed to foreign enemies," Edwards — who served in the Navy during World War II and went on to become the chairman and CEO of the ARCO Pipleine Co. — had his lawyers send the Academy a detailed argument alleging that the film has violated Oscar-eligibility requirements.

In a Dec. 9 letter from Jean Lamfers of the Kansas law firm of Lamfers & Associates, LC, to the Academy's president, Cheryl Boones Isaacs, and Kate Amend, Rob Epstein and Alex Gibney, who represent the documentary branch on the board of governors, Edwards' counsel argued that Citizenfour has violated three separate Academy rules.

Lamfers claimed that Citizenfour violated a section of Rule Eleven that states that "films that, in any version, receive a nontheatrical public exhibition or distribution before their first qualifying theatrical release, will not be eligible for Academy Awards consideration." That charge stemmed from the fact that Poitras provided 12 minutes and 34 seconds of her Snowden footage to The Guardian, which aired it in June 2013 in conjunction with its coverage of the NSA whistleblower. That footage, which introduced Snowden to the public and was widely rebroadcast, carried the title PRISM Whistleblower and included an end credit that read "A Film by Laura Poitras." Lamfers asserted that constituted "a nontheatrical public exhibition" of an early "version" of Citizenfour and "would appear to trigger mandatory Academy ineligiblity."

Read New York Film Fest: 'Citizenfour' Hacks Way to Top of Uber-Competitive Doc Oscar Race 

Lamfers also asserted that the film violated another section of Rule Eleven that says "only individual documentary works are eligible" and "excludes from consideration: episodes extracted from a larger series, segments taken from a single 'composite' program and alternative versions of ineligible works" because, the letter contended, Citizenfour "constitutes an alternate version of an ineligible work released non-theatrically" in June, 2013.

Lamfers further argued that the film violated a third section of Rule Eleven that states that a "picture must be submitted in the same Awards year in which it first qualifies." The attorney said that Citizenfour should be ineligible because its earlier incarnation, PRISM Whistleblower, "at a run time of 12 minutes and 34 seconds, might have qualified in 2013 for the 86th Academy Awards Documentary Short Subject" Oscar.

Those associated with the film dismissed Edwards' charges. "Citizenfour meets every Academy eligibility requirement," a spokesperson for Radius-TWC — which is distributing Citizenfour — told THR.

The Academy reached the same conclusion, with a spokesperson telling THR, "The Academy has reviewed the inquiry and determined that Citizenfour is eligible for Oscar consideration. The Guardian interview appears in less than two minutes of the documentary and is not a previous version of the film."

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg