A simple two-word phrase clarified a bunch of things I've been thinking about related to the new streaming era we find ourselves in, and what "counts" as a legitimate movie.
That phrase is "awards eligible."
My wife was listening to the KCRW app -- or is it the All Things Considered app? -- anyway, some app. There was an "ad" on, or what passes for an ad on public radio, which is kind of like when hosts of podcasts read testimonials about their experiences with the products of sponsors. Anyway, it was for the documentary One of Us on Netflix, about Hasidic Jews who left the orthodox life.
It's something I'd seen advertised on Netflix, or perhaps even had the trailer start for me at the end of something else I'd watched (Netflix does that nowadays, curse them). I considered it and I thought "Nah. I can't be sure it's a 'real' documentary."
I've discussed this before so I won't get into it at length here, but let's just say that documentaries have been the most difficult to pin down in the streaming era, leaving me the least certain whether they would have had a theatrical release even two years ago. The probability of being released theatrically, either because they were released theatrically or because I can imagine they would have been when that was more common, has been my informal litmus test for whether I'll watch something to include it on my year-end list.
As I was listening to the sponsor segment on One of Us, the segment told me that it was from the directors of Jesus Camp, a "real" documentary from about ten years ago that I'd thought very highly of. That inched it closer to consideration for something I'd prioritize before the end of the year.
What clinched that, though, was the two-word phrase that came in at the end, almost like a legal disclaimer: "Awards eligible."
And it struck me: that's what I want to know about a film. Is it eligible for awards?
Because in order for something to be eligible for awards, it usually needs to have been released in the theater. Whether Netflix has it now or not doesn't necessarily matter to me. What matters is if it was ever, at any point, released theatrically somewhere. Presumably, this was.
I wondered why they bothered to include that at all, as that phrase was certainly not included in the ad copy just to legitimize the film in my eyes. No, I figure that KCRW being a Los Angeles station, its listeners might actually be in the position to include the movie on their Oscar ballot. While studios usually have to take out an ad in the trades to give their movie an Oscar push, I guess Netflix can accomplish the same thing by sponsoring KCRW.
Interestingly, wikipedia says nothing about a theatrical release for One of Us. It premiered at TIFF and then was available October 20th (my birthday) on Netflix worldwide. Don't see how that meets the theatrical criterion for awards eligibility.
In fact, I get this directly from the wikipedia page on the Academy Awards:
"The Best Documentary Feature award requires week-long releases in both Los Angeles County and New York City during the previous calendar year."
I suppose the wikipedia page could be out of date, but this gives lie to that:
"Effective with the 90th Academy Awards, to be presented in 2018, multi-part and limited series will be ineligible for the Best Documentary Feature award."
Well, no clarity here. We do know that OJ: Made in America can't win again, though.
Clarity or no, I'll be only too eager to add One of Us to my official Letterboxd watchlist (done so already, in fact). With the dearth of documentaries I've seen this year or can even be sure are "real" documentaries, I need any excuse I can get to promote one to full legitimacy.
Even if you can't back it up, just tell me it's "awards eligible" and I'll be good.