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Oscar Winner Deborah Shaffer Statement on Oscar Docu Short List Omissions

Photo of Peter Belsito By Peter Belsito | SydneysBuzz December 18, 2013 at 12:00PM

Deborah is a dear friend, family and business, for many years.She is a lifelong dedicated documentary filmmaker, one of our best. Her docu Oscar and Emmy awards attest to the talent and dedication.Recently she has been discussing with me what she feels are the current shortcomings in this year's nominating Documentary Oscar process and especially the recently published 'short list' by the Academy.
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Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Deborah Shaffer
Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Deborah Shaffer

Deborah is a dear friend, family and business, for many years.

She is a lifelong dedicated documentary filmmaker, one of our best. Her docu Oscar and Emmy awards attest to the talent and dedication.

Recently she has been discussing with me what she feels are the current shortcomings in this year's nominating Documentary Oscar process and especially the recently published 'short list' by the Academy.

We are very interested in hearing your feedback or comments on this issue which is NOT likely to be discussed or raised in any other forum but which we consider VERY important!!

Following is her statement on the present situation and the omission of certain very important titles from the AMPAS 'short list' of this year's documentaries..

by Deborah Shaffer -

As an Academy Award-winning documentary director and member of the doc branch of AMPAS, I was the lucky recipient of all 149 qualified documentaries in 2013. It has certainly been one of the more bountiful and exciting years ever. I wish that, as with fiction features, we had the option to nominate up to 10 titles. There are certainly enough excellent, strong candidates to fill a slate of 10. But there is something about this year's short list that has made me sad and disappointed and I don't know whether the fault lies in the process or the end result, but it's certainly the latter where it shows up.

Among the qualified films this year were an incredibly strong number of docs on African American history and culture, including Let the Fire Burn, The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Gideon's Army, The New Black, and American Promise. NOT ONE OF THESE FILMS IS ON THE SHORT LIST despite having been recognized at numerous other festivals and year end award events. It suggests a distressing pattern of oversight, and even more disappointing since 4 of the above films were directed by Black women.

Oscar Winner Deborah Shaffer
Oscar Winner Deborah Shaffer

I don't have any quick or easy solutions about how to address this. We are all bemoaning the nearly impossible burden of watching approximately 150 documentaries, yet I don't think anyone wants to go back to the bad old committee system. Certainly continuing the trend to diversifying the branch membership across gender, age, and race should help. Personally I would also like to see a system where fewer films qualify, making it more possible for more members to screen those docs that do make it through the gate.


As it stands now, anyone with enough money to four wall a theatrical opening in New York and LA can meet the qualifications, essentially buying their way into the Oscar pool. There should be a way to close this loophole, which I estimate would cut the numbers by at least one third to one half. Our field has grown so much in recent years, and the overall quality of the films that have made it to the short list is staggeringly high. We need to find a way to make sure we reward the best, and not just the best known.

This article is related to: Deborah Shaffer , Documentary, Academy Awards, Oscar Academy Award, Let the Fire Burn, The Trials of Muhammad Ali, Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, Gideon's Army, The New Black, American Promise, International Film Market, International Film Business, International Film Festival, International Sales Agent, International

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