Are members from the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences being paid to short list some films over others? That's what it sounds like director James Toback was alluding to when he spoke to the New York Times recently about how his buzzed-about documentary, Tyson, was left off the Academy's short list along with several other notable documentaries from the past year. Toback told the Times that at some point during the selection process he experienced something he puts "fully in the category of extortion", adding that he did not go along with it.

Speaking on behalf of the documentary branch -- which Toback refers to as "some tiny, dirty covert weirdly protective group" -- chairman (and filmmaker) Rob Epstein said, "I have no idea. It certainly hasn't come before me." Among some of the critically acclaimed docs snubbed this year are Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story, the awesome Anvil! The Story of Anvil, and The September Issue. This year's documentary short list was narrowed down to 15 finalists from 89 possible contenders. So, yeah, obviously you're going to see some fantastic films miss the cut, and, subsequently, some pissed off filmmakers, but it's a pretty bold move for Toback to go and claim extortion, don't you think?
That's not to say there isn't anything shady going on when it comes to this whole process. First off, not everyone watches all the films, so it only takes a small amount of people to accept or reject a movie. As someone who's participated in a similar process for multiple film festivals, I've seen great films almost get rejected because of ridiculous reasons ("that actor had weird hair", or "I didn't like the song they used in that one scene"). So I can totally see how the same thing could happen here.

It'll be interesting to see what happens from this point forward. Will folks just write off Toback's claims as being of the sore loser variety, or will it actually spark some sort of investigation into not only the process with which they select the films, but also the people who are watching and voting?

What do you think should happen?

[via Karina Longworth]