These days, most buyers take new docs on the festival circuit and into limited theatrical release to pave the way for ancillary outlets like TV and DVD. Not so for HBO. The company's strategy for Marina Zenovich's Sundance '08 hit "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" became apparent over the weekend. As Defamer.com reported, the film is being quietly released in theaters right now to qualify the doc for Oscar consideration. But the release is not being hyped in anyway, apparently to preserve its PR potential for a cable TV premiere in June.
AMPAS recently changed its doc-qualifying rules, abandoning the need for a fourteen screen theatrical release to make a film Oscar eligible. I am guessing that doc filmmakers are generally happy with the new rules, but, something sure feels really empty when an acclaimed doc is silently screened in theaters. Why bother wasting the money? The Academy has tried to set a standard of honoring only theatrical docs, but many non-fiction films face a tough time getting a decent theatrical release, while those few that get an HBO deal reach a much wider audience via cable television.
Should AMPAS just lose the theatrical requirement altogether? Or maybe institute a festival screening policy, qualifying a film that is seen at a minimum of number of fest screenings by paying audiences? It just seems like the Academy's doc committee still hasn't gotten it right...