How is Oscar-winning ‘O.J.: Made in America’ in contention at Emmys too?

The academy revamped the rules for Best Documentary Feature on Friday (April 7), making multi-part TV series ineligible for consideration. Had that change been in effect this year, it would have precluded the ultimate Oscar winner — “O.J.: Made in America” — from even entering the competition as this eight-hour long limited series for ESPN was filmed in five parts.

Because of its ties to television, “O.J.: Made in America” is also a strong contender at the upcoming Emmys. But how is it that a documentary can be both a feature film and a TV show. 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 pre-release” 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.

Last year Netflix’s “What Happened, Miss Simone?,” which profiled singer/songwriter Nina Simone, lost the Oscar race to “Amy,” which chronicled the last days of songbird Amy Winehouse. However, it won Best Documentary/Non-Fiction Special at the Emmys. Another Oscar nominee, “Winter on Fire,” contended for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking but lost that Emmy race to “Cartel Land,” which had not made the final five at the Oscars.

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In 2015, the Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” also won the Emmy for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking where it contended against “Hot Girls Wanted” (Netflix) and “The Great Invisible (Independent Lens),” a PBS/Pivot co-production. One of its Oscar rivals — “Virunga” — vied 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 detailed the fight against California’s anti-gay marriage proposition, and the much-discussed “Going Clear” about the workings of the Church of Scientology. The latter won this race.

In 2014, “The Square” lost the Oscar 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


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