WGA gets stricter on documentary eligibility

Posted by · 11:15 am · August 19th, 2013

File this under “eligibility rules I didn’t know weren’t already in place.” Any seasoned-awards watcher knows that Writers’ Guild of America Awards for Best Original and Adapted Screenplay are inconsistent with other precursor honors in the category because of their highly exclusive eligibility criteria, which dictate that only films written by Guild signatories can be considered. It’s a rule that annually disqualifies many of the leading contenders in the race: earlier this year, “Django Unchained” (which, of course, ueventually won the Academy Award) headed a list of barred titles that also included Oscar nominees “Amour” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

Same as it ever was. What I didn’t know, however, was the documentaries, which have had their own WGA category since 2004, have until now been exempt from this rule: docs not produced by Guild signatories could be nominated, as long as the credited writers then joined the WGA’s non-fiction caucus. No longer, reports Variety’s Dave McNary — documentaries will now be required to meet the came criteria as narrative features.

Non-American scripts written outside the WGA’s jurisdiction may still compete with the collaboration of the equivalent Guild in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Israel and Quebec.

This seems fair to me, inasmuch as the WGA’s restrictions are fair at all. It’s not clear to me what difference this ruling would have made to the last nine years’ worth of nominees. Chilean documentarian Patricio Guzman was nominated two years ago for “Nostalgia for the Light,” for example — would he have found a way to qualify under the new rules? I guess we’ll gauge its effect when the official ballot is revealed at the year’s end.

The category’s past winners, from 2004 onward, include Morgan Spurlock for “Super Size Me”; Alex Gibney for “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”; Amy Berg for “Deliver Us from Evil”; Gibney again for “Taxi to the Dark Side”; Ari Folman for “Waltz With Bashir”; Mark Monroe for “The Cove”; Charles Ferguson, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt for “Inside Job”; Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega for “Better This World”; and Malik Bendjelloul for “Searching for Sugar Man.” 

Something I didn’t know before reading this news, meanwhile, is that the creation of a documentary award rendered docs ineligible from the other writing categories — something that would have prevented Michael Moore winning that surprising Best Original Screenplay award in the 2002 race for “Bowling for Columbine.” Bit of a shame, that.

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