Movies · TV

When Movies Get a Second Chance

By  · Published on September 23rd, 2016

The Oscars and the Emmys overlap in a strange way.

Congratulations to Cutie and the Boxer, one of my favorite films of 2013, for winning the Emmy for Best Documentary at the 37th Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards last night. Yes, last night. It took almost four years from its debut at Sundance, where it won a directing prize, to come to this. And almost three years since it lost the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature to 20 Feet from Stardom. This is what second chances look like.

Last night’s honor shouldn’t be confused with the award given out last Saturday to What Happened, Miss Simone, which won in the Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special category at the 68th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Or Cartel Land, which won for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking at the same event. Those make up for their loss of the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature this year to Amy. One of Cutie and the Boxer’s competitors at the Oscars, The Square, was previously nominated for that Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special award, too.

The allowance for overlap between the Oscars and the Emmys, which tend to be associated respectively as an honor for film and an honor for television, has been a place to find the blurring between the mediums for decades, and I’ve always found it strange. I don’t like questioning anything that wants to shed more light on documentaries, especially deserving films such as Cutie and the Boxer and Life Itself, which took an editing award last night, but I can’t help wonder why it’s done for docs but not other kinds of movies.

For theatrically released documentaries to qualify for Emmys (either the Primetime or News & Doc variety) all they really have to do is eventually air on television. Many of them tend to do so in the form of airing as an “episode” of PBS’s POV or Independent Lens series. Others include HBO Documentaries titles or films produced for Showtime or released by Netflix, and then they all compete against docs that were only ever broadcast on TV, such as installments of Frontline and special CNN miniseries.

Just imagine if non-docs (call them fictional, narrative, dramatic, real movies, whatever you want) were able to receive the same recognition for their TV debuts. There aren’t any equivalent showcase series for those kinds of movies on PBS or elsewhere, and cable outlets like HBO don’t tend to produce movies that go to theaters – however, in the last two years they did have a hand in making Entourage, understandably, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Should the latter get to qualify for an Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie once it hits the premium channel?

The thing is, non-docs don’t really need the help from awards recognition to be discovered on the small screen the way docs do. Since the dawn of cable television and now with streaming services like Netflix, tons of movies that didn’t get enough attention at the box office or during awards season to be found by an audience. But that’s true of docs now more than ever, especially thanks to Netflix and online streaming for POV and other series.

So, if something like Cutie and the Boxer can go in front of a minimal audience in theaters and find awards love and then later get seen by a larger number of people on TV or streaming and find different awards love, we ought to have more organizational recognition for something like Nebraska, a big Oscar contender of the same year that wound up with no awards. That would be an interesting drama to consider, too, because it actually had an alternate color version that made a “World Color Premiere” on EPIX in 2014.

In a sort of reverse of that, Mad Max: Fury Road is getting a black and white version, though it probably won’t similarly get a special TV premiere. As far as other 2015 movies that are different enough on the small screen as the big, there’s a shorter version of The Hateful Eight and longer versions of The Martian and Furious 7. Running time variation is also a notable part of doc broadcasts because a lot of films wind up severely cut down for TV, especially for Independent Lens, which usually needs to be under an hour.

Another way for movies to get a second chance via the small screen, in a way, is through TV shows based on those movies. MASH was nominated for but didn’t win Best Picture (it won an Oscar for its adapted screenplay), and then in series form it won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, among many others received through its 11 seasons, and was generally a whole lot more popular in that version of the story.

And it doesn’t just have to be about awards. The recent TV series version of Parenthood has tons of fans who’ve never seen the movie (though it should be noted the movie sold 25m tickets and the series only had 6–7m viewers. What will be interesting to see, in a related situation, is whether the final, TV-destined installment of the Divergent movie franchise will have more viewers than the theatrical releases, in terms of tickets sold.

Why ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Deserves the Second Chance that Criterion Didn’t Give It

Great movies fall through the cracks all the time, and great stories often take a while to find their best or most accessible medium or format for the telling. What will be the docs of 2016 that take a few years to receive peak recognition (one guess: Zero Days) and what will be the non-docs that go ignored by the Oscars only to eventually be remembered as the best of the year (guesses: Green Room, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Nice Guys)?

What have you discovered for the first time on the small screen this year that you think deserves a second chance at awards recognition?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.