Acclaimed movies may have fallen victim to Academy politics

The Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. ─ Despite placing on many critics' Top-Ten lists, ''Hoop Dreams'' failed to earn an Oscar nomination for best documentary, joining an ill-starred lineup of acclaimed documentaries snubbed by the Academy.

The omission Tuesday of the inner─city basketball saga ─ following slights of such films as ''Roger and Me,'' ''The Thin Blue Line'' and ''The Civil War'' ─ raised fresh criticism that the Academy's documentary committee is out of touch.

''It's a miscarriage of justice and fairness,'' said critic Roger Ebert. '''Hoop Dreams' is obviously the best documentary America has produced in years.''

''Hoop Dreams'' follows Chicago high school stars Arthur Agee and William Gates for four and a half years as they pursue dreams of playing pro ball. Both now are college seniors ─ Agee at Arkansas State, Gates at Marquette ─ and play for their schools.

Filmmakers can rattle off a slew of highly regarded documentaries left off the Academy Award honor roll in recent years: ''Paris is Burning,'' ''Brother's Keeper,'' ''A Brief History of Time,'' ''Sherman's March'' and ''28 Up,'' among many others.

''The sad thing is this has been going on for a long time and it never changes,'' said dejected director Peter Gilbert, who spent seven years making ''Hoop Dreams.'' ''It just happens over and over again.''

''Hoop Dreams'' did receive a nomination for best editing.

The five nominated documentary features were ''Maya Lin,'' ''Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,'' '''D-Day Remembered,'' ''Freedom on My Mind'' and ''A Great Day in Harlem.''

''I have yet to hear of any of these movies that were nominated,'' said Michael Barker, whose well-reviewed Sony Classics release ''Crumb'' also was overlooked.

Those left out of the documentary category were particularly indignant that the chairwoman of the nominating committee saw her own obscure documentary win a nomination.

Academy officials said Freida Lee Mock was banned from committee meetings and screenings and was prohibited from voting for her ''Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision.'' But filmmakers said the conflict was too profound.

''They've been very careful to say that they avoid a conflict of interest,'' said Ira Deutchman, whose Fine Line Features distributed ''Hoop Dreams'' and pushed the movie for a best─picture nomination. ''But this is a group of people who spend a lot of time together.''

For most categories except best picture, Academy voters are divided into branches. Costume designers nominate costume designers, editors pick editors, and so on.

But there is no documentary branch. Forty-seven mostly veteran Academy members ─ actors, producers, directors ─ form a committee that nominates documentaries in a secret ballot.

''We looked at 64 movies this year,'' said committee vice chairman Walter Shenson. ''The public and the press don't see as many movies as we do. We thought there were five better films (than 'Hoop Dreams') . Democracy is painful ─ it's not always easy.''

Committee member Mitchell Block, who didn't vote because he represents ''D-Day,'' said ''Hoop Dreams'' may have suffered from its nearly three-hour length.

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