"Last year, "Control Room," in which Jehane Noujaim examined American and Arab news coverage in the opening stages of the Iraq War, was...shut out," continues Anderson, "even though it was shelved by its producers for six months before being shown on European television; in the interim the required blackout period had been extended to nine months. That rule has since been eliminated. But it doesn't help "Why We Fight". "The director of "Why We Fight," which opened on Jan. 20, Mr. Jarecki has produced an ambitious treatise on the American military-industrial complex, the philosophy of perpetual war and the prescience of Dwight D. Eisenhower. It won him the prize for best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival last January - just as the documentary branch announced another set of rule changes.
"Ms. Mock [,head of the Academy's documentary division,] said in an academy press release that "films with a true theatrical rollout would be 'exempt' - in quotes - from the television blackout provision," said Mr. Jarecki, whose previous documentary was "The Trials of Henry Kissinger." Mr. Jarecki's legal counsel, John Sloss; members of the Sundance Institute; and executives at the BBC concluded that the academy had at last recognized that a television debut is sometimes a financial necessity for documentaries. Mr. Jarecki allowed "Why We Fight" to be shown on British television. "But according to the academy..., the film violated the broadcast ban. "We were informed that these clauses had been dropped," he said. "Had we known that the rules had retained some obligation to show first in a cinema in America, we would have rescheduled our screening."
At best, one could believe that the Oscar rulemakers are simply incompetent, or perhaps even biased toward certain kinds of documentary content, as Anderson implies elsewhere in his article, but in the same piece we learn that "at one point the academy's board of governors wanted to eliminate the short-documentary category altogether and banish documentary features to the science and technical awards, which are presented in a separate ceremony." Hollywood would look pretty silly doing so, given how closely the documentary film is woven into the fabric of film history and aesthetics, but this would not be the first time that Hollywood caved in to Washington. The bottom line is the Academy was put on the spot, politically, when Michael Moore won an Oscar for "Farenheit 9/11," and was cut off during his short but political acceptance speech amidst both cheers and boos, and what we're seeing now are attempts to prevent such an event from happening again. Given what we have learned over the years about Bush news management and propaganda, a White House hand in Hollywood is hardly out of the question.