Emmys mystery: Why are Oscar nominated documentaries in contention here too?

edward snowden citizenfour leonardo dicaprio virunga emmys oscars entertainment 13579086 story

How is it that this year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature — “Citizenfour” — as well as one of its rival nominees, “Virunga,” are in contention at the Emmys? Turns out that wrinkles in the rules for these top kudos in their respective fields allow savvy producers to be eligible for both awards. 

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To qualify for the Oscars, a documentary feature must play for at least one week in both Los Angeles and New York cinemas, have at least four screenings per day with at least one of those in the evening, be advertised in at least one major newspaper in each city and be reviewed in either of the New York or Los Angeles Times. 

Rule 10 of the eligibility criteria for the Emmys explicitly precludes “television programs that are offered for general theatrical exhibition occurring prior to their airing or Internet exhibition.” However, this rule goes on to note that “General theatrical release shall not include either or both:

(A) exhibitions made for purposes of fulfilling Award requirements (e.g. festival Awards, the Oscars) if such exhibition occurs only at one or more film festivals and/or in limited theatrical release of not more than seven days in not more than two (2) cities; and

(B) exhibitions made for the purpose of meeting “initial limited theatrical prelease” requirements for foreign theatrical exhibition by a motion picture distributor or financier provided that evidence of the requirement for an initial limited theatrical release is acceptable to the Awards Committee and that theatrical exhibitions prior to the airing or Internet exhibition of the television program do not exceed an aggregate of up to seventy (70) days prior exhibitions in not more than ten (10) U.S. cities.

Citizenfour” only aired on HBO after qualifying for the Oscars; likewise, “Virunga” did not stream on Netflix till it had completed its week-long runs on both coasts. 

“Citizenfour” contends for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking against “Hot Girls Wanted” (Netflix) and “The Great Invisible (Independent Lens),” a PBS/Pivot co-production.

“Virunga” vies for Best Documentary or Nonfiction Special against four entries from documentary powerhouse HBO: two biographies — “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” and “Sinatra: All or Nothing At All” — as well as the timely “Case Against 8” that details the fight against California’s anti-gay marriage proposition, and the much-discussed “Going Clear” about the workings of the Church of Scientology.

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Last year, “The Square” lost the Oscar race to “20 Feet From Stardom” and then contended at the Emmys for Best Nonfiction or Documentary Special. It lost to “JFK,” an installment of the long-running PBS series “American Experience.”  

Below, a sampling of other Oscar contenders that have gone on to compete at the Emmys. 

“Life According to Sam”
2013: Oscars – shortlist of 15
2014: Emmys – winner of Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking

“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”
2012: Oscars – shortlist of 15
2013: Emmys – winner of Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking

“Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory”
2011: Oscars – nominee
2012: Emmys – nominee in Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking

2010: Oscars – nominee
2011: Emmys – nominee in Exceptional Merit In Non Fiction Filmmaking

“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
2009: Oscars – nominee
2011: Emmys – nominee in Exceptional Merit In Non Fiction Filmmaking

“The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)”
2008: Oscars – nominee
2010: Emmys – winner of Exceptional Merit In Non Fiction Filmmaking

Photos: “Citizenfour” and “Virunga” posters. Credits: Netflix/Everett/REX

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