Will the anti-drilling piece Gasland take home the Oscar?

The Oscars are five days away and the oil and gas industry will anxiously be waiting to see if the anti-oil and gas drilling piece, Gasland, takes home the top honor for feature-length documentary. Although it’s not like the industry has been sitting around twiddling its thumbs for the past year since Josh Fox introduced his documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. Energy In Depth, a coalition of the country’s oil and gas producers, backed by the states’ individual oil and gas associations, created a website intent on “debunking Gasland.

Oscar statueThe EID even went as far as to send a letter to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to ask it to reconsider allowing the documentary to be included because as executive director Lee O. Fuller put it, “it is an expression of stylized fiction.” The letter outlined the falsehoods, inconsistencies and errors the industry has seen throughout the film and hoped for a well-received response from the Academy.

The response from the Academy, as taken from EID’s website, was that since they don’t have the resources or time to check out every implication for films that compete for the awards each year they, “simply put the movies out there and trust the intelligence of our members. If facts have been suppressed or distorted, if truth has been twisted, we depend on them to sniff that out and vote accordingly.”

Interesting theory. We’ll see how it works out this year. The other four documentaries up for the award are: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Inside Job, Restrepo and Waste Land. Before I explain who I think will win the Oscar and if it even matters, let me explain how the voting process works for the Oscars.

How the Oscars work

Nearly 6,000 people, big names in the industry and not, make up the members of the Academy that will actually vote for who takes home the golden statuettes each year. The members make up 15 branches of the film world such as actors, animators, directors, film editors, producers, sound artists, visual effects and writers.

Each person who is part of the Academy must first be invited by the Board of Governors and to even be considered for the invitation, that person must first have “achieved distinction in the art and sciences of motion pictures,” according to the Academy’s website.

The purpose of the Oscars is to honor outstanding achievements in theatrically released feature-length films. In addition to the famous categories everyone is familiar with like best actress, best supporting actor, best film, etc., the Academy also awards best film editing, best art direction, best original score and costume design.

Members of each branch nominate films for those that apply for their respective category except for Best Film. This year the Academy had until Jan. 14 to nominate films, and then the poll closed yesterday for all members to mail in their secret ballot for voting before its announced Sunday.

To be considered in the documentary category, an eligible film has to be a “theatrically released nonfiction motion picture dealing creatively with cultural, artistic, historical, social, scientific, economic or other subjects” and the “emphasis should be on fact and not fiction,” according to the Academy’s website.

The feature-length documentary must be at least 40 minutes long, featured in a commercial run theater in Los Angeles County and in the Borough of Manhattan during September 2009 – August 2010, must be paid for admission, and must be advertised in a major newspaper.

Members of the Documentary Branch (157 this year) view all the documentaries, make a short list of the best 10-15 and then nominate the best five. Once the documentaries have been nominated, they go to the full Academy for voting, but for this category and a few others, members of the category must first attest that they’ve seen all the films in the category before they can vote.

Who will win and does it matter?

While I’ve seen research on whether winning an Oscar statue means anything for actors or actresses, (apparently if you win as an actor or actress it increases your life expectancy by three years), I could not find any link to winning in documentary category and it making much of a difference other than a greater exposure to the public – which in this case, would be detrimental, since the public is already inflamed against the oil and gas industry, and the film is short on truth, to put it in a friendly way.

With that said, I think a large part of the public may already be familiar with Gasland because of the industry’s efforts to correct its errors, but that couldn’t be avoided. It would be far worse to say nothing and allow those who have seen it to assume that’s how the industry really works, than for the greater public to know that our industry is outraged by its falsity.

I don’t often watch documentaries – check that, I rarely watch any of the documentaries and this year was no different. I only watched Gasland so I could see what it was all about, so I can’t attest to how well the others were produced. With that said, it seems like the two most likely to win tonight from those who actually watch documentaries, thankfully aren’t Gasland, but instead Exit Through the Gift Shop or Restrepo. We’ll see what happens on Sunday!

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