The Oscar process that needs a makeover

As the Academy prepares to amend the rules, the directors of Yolc hegy and RMN deal with the failures of the international Oscar submission process.

Last fall, five days before Italy announced its official Oscars, filmmakers Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch were nervous. The Belgian couple, who set the intimate Cannes-winning film Eight Mountains in the Italian Alps and learned the language of the project, hoped their commitment was enough to convince the selection committee that it met the requirements.

“We want Italians to be proud of this film, so we’re praying they’re proud enough to send it,” Vandermeersch told IndieWire at the time. “If our nationality diminishes that sense of pride or ownership, we can’t help it, but we think it’s becoming less and less important in today’s world.”

The following week, the country dropped “Eight Mountains” in favor of another Cannes selection, Italian director Mario Matone’s crime thriller “Nostalgia.” a month later, he did not make the official shortlist. Italy – which holds the record for the most international Oscars with 14 trophies in the category’s nearly 70-year history – was eliminated from the competition.

Months later, when “Eight Mountains” finally opens in New York with awards season behind it, van Groeningen said the experience made him rethink the process. A previous nominee for his heartbreaking 2012 bluegrass saga “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” the filmmaker said he took the submission rules for granted until he made a film that mixed two nationalities in the production.

“In a way, I felt it was unfair,” he said. “We were in between. Since most of the creative team was Belgian, even though the rest of the team was Italian, we didn’t have the space.” They knew they could not submit the film as a Belgian entry; this country kicked off with another Cannes award winner, Lukas Dhont’s “Close,” which received a nomination.

“If I could change (the Oscars), the idea would be to make the category more open, so any film could apply,” van Groeningen said. “Then it would be a process of natural selection.”

His comments come ahead of the Academy’s meeting on Friday to discuss possible rule changes for the 2023-2024 Oscar season. Before the meeting, there were speculations that the requirements for the Best International Feature Film category might change. Last year, the Academy hired former Sundance programmer Dilcia Barrera to oversee the international submission process and help countries navigate the requirements, but industry stakeholders tell IndieWire they want it to be “one country, one film” rule would give way to the broader one. regulations.

“Eight Mountains” opens the same week that IFC Films presents another film that was neglected by its home country in the submission process, Romanian writer Cristian Mungiu’s “RMN.” Mungiu is his country’s most prominent filmmaker since his abortion thriller “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” won the Palme d’Or in 2007 (the Academy did not make the list, prompting its own outrage). While Mungiu’s “RMN” was well-received at its Cannes premiere, Romania decided to ignore the haunting immigration story about small-town xenophobia in favor of submitting “The Immaculate” (also unlisted).


IFC movies

“To be honest, this year was significant enough for me to be a little sad,” Mungiu told IndieWire this week. “I’m not a huge believer in awards, but there’s something about promoting for awards. It’s important to have attention, and having a film released in the US is so tied to awards season that I was sorry they didn’t pick the film because I knew it would have gotten bigger and earlier attention and not now. .”

Mungiu proposed a change to the Academy’s rules that others in the industry whispered to IndieWire: Instead of relying solely on the varied processes through which each country selects its nominees, the Academy would require that all contenders receive a U.S. theatrical release. its appearance. “If you’re going to option a movie, you need a distributor in the U.S., because if you don’t, you’re just throwing a stone in the river and it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Regarding the Romanian Oscar committee, Mungiu said: “They don’t want the Academy to value what (Romanian audiences) like. They want the Academy to rate what they think (the Academy) should like, which is really funny.” (“Immaculate” has not yet acquired an American distributor.)

Arguments against the proposal: It risks putting lower-profile films at a disadvantage, as they may not appeal to risk-averse American buyers. Unexpected entries such as the first Bhutanese-nominated ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’ are often cited as key examples.

“If you’re from a big country, it’s a disadvantage because of the competition, but there’s more money behind it,” van Groeningen said. “I always thought it was. Every country sends a film and that’s it. Our process with the last film and the conversations I had about it made me think differently.”

The Academy’s rules have changed many times over the years, including a decision in 2006 that no longer required that a submitted film be in the language of its home country. These changes were reflected in some of last year’s submissions, including the Danish entry for “Holy Spider,” a Persian-language thriller shot in Jordan. However, current regulations still leave the process open to the whims of countries that are often averse to non-citizen directors.

In “Eight Mountains,” van Groeningen and Vandermeersch immersed themselves in the remote mountain culture at the center of the story, adapted from Paolo Cognetti’s novel about two young men, one from the city, the other from the countryside. whose relationship becomes more complicated with age.

The project followed van Groeningen’s experiences making his first non-Belgian film, the English-language “Beautiful Boy,” and he said the two experiences helped him embrace the idea of ​​working beyond his country’s borders.

“Before I always worked with almost the same team in Belgium,” he said. “I realized that I can step out of my comfort zone. I improved step by step in being comfortable with a team I didn’t know and working in another language. Every step of my path opened up my world, made me more comfortable and curious to follow this.”

Additional reporting by Ryan Lattanzio.

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