Why the Academy Needed a New International Feature Film Rule – IndieWire

Cannes is the birthplace of future Best International Feature Oscar contenders such as last year’s top prize winner “Close” or winners such as 2021’s “Drive My Car.” This year’s options include the UK’s raved-about German-language film from British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, The Zone of Interest; Argentina’s Un Certain Regard entry, “The Delinquents,” a three-hour existential heist film picked up by Magnolia; or the latest film of the Japanese “Monster”, Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose film “Shoplifters” won both the Palme d’Or and an Oscar nomination. However, they must be submitted before they can be nominated – and as Academy members well know, that’s the rub.

The need for reform boils down to the following: too often the decision of the Oscar nominations is not in the hands of the filmmakers, but in the hands of the decision-makers, and this can lead to some… frustrating decisions. Last year, India did not submit ‘RRR’ and Italy declined selection well reviewed The Cannes entry “Eight Mountains” directed by the Belgian team of Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch in Italy. “If I could change (the Oscars), the idea would be to make the category more open, so any film could apply,” van Groeningen told IndieWire. “Then it would be a process of natural selection.”

"In flames"

Aziz Ansari a "Buried alive" presentation

Countries choose the Oscars in different ways. Some appoint small committees; some have national academies. In Brazil, Iran and Russia, the commission is dominated by their governments; even in a democratic country like France, the selection process is dominated by representatives of industry power. Cannes director Thierry Fremaux has been a member of the committee for years and has often been accused of favoring Cannes titles.

Among the Academy’s myriad rule changes this year was a new rule for best international feature that requires each country’s Oscar selection committee to be 50 percent “artists and/or artisans working in the field of motion pictures.” This doesn’t exactly qualify as a radical reform: before its codification, there was usually a 50 percent “guideline” for years (which was not available to the public). Still, as far as countries around the world go about the Oscars, most are probably fine.

Still, the new rule does little to address how AMPAS will deal with exiled and banned filmmakers, or otherwise orphaned films that don’t have a home. The co-chairs of the International Feature Film Executive Committee, Danish Oscar winner Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”) and MoMa chief curator Rajendra Roy, who have delved deeply into the processes behind the international Oscar selections, have yet to figure it out. solution to these questions. So they started with a smaller step.

“The Eight Mountains”Sideshow and Janus Films

“It was clear to both of us that there really was a need for more transparency for submitting countries,” Roy said by phone. “Obviously there is a need for transparency… there still seemed to be confusion between countries about how to submit. There wasn’t a lot of consistency, but we had to be true that the people who make films and all those who appear in any form are involved in at least 50 percent of this process.”

Every year, the selection committees ask the Academy a lot of questions about the rules for awarding the International Feature Film category, the committee’s guidelines and criteria, and the submission process. When Bhutan first tried to submit, there was no approved official selection committee. The country needed the Academy’s help to set up a selection committee and submit a film. Finally, Bhutan received a surprise nomination for Pawo Choyning Dorji’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom.

LUNANA: A JACK IN THE CLASS, 2019. © Samuel Goldwyn Films / Courtesy Everett Collection
LUNANA: A JACK IN THE CLASS©Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films/Everett Collection

Attempts to reform the Academy’s foreign language selection process included the 2006 change that a submitted film no longer had to be in the language of its home country. This enabled Denmark, for example, to submit the country’s Profile Picture production called “Holy Spider” last year; the film was shot in Persian in Jordan. After Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” was passed over for the 2008 nomination, the Academy established a foreign committee to consider the final selection. That committee was abandoned in 2021, but the Academy expanded the shortlist to 15 and added a wider range of global voters to online viewing.

To handle international submissions, in April 2022 the Academy hired former Sundance programmer Dilcia Barrera as the Academy’s new senior vice president of member relations, global outreach and administration. He will work closely with Meredith Shea, former AMPAS member and award presenter, who returned to the Academy this April as Head of Membership, Impact and Industry. “Finding the right staff member to fill the role, someone with an international focus, was an important step for the Academy,” Roy said.

Or to put it another way: with Barrera, AMPAS now has someone entrusted with making sure that the changed rule from the 50 percent guideline goes into effect. Roy said the Academy has long asked countries to submit their selection committee membership, but the provision of the rule plus an executive gives it more power. “It makes a difference,” Roy said.

PALM SPRINGS, CA - JUNE 20: Sundance Film Festival Short Film Programmer Dilcia Barrera speaks on a panel at the 2015 Palm Springs International ShortFest on June 20, 2015 in Palm Springs, California.  (Photo: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images)
Dilcia Barrera at the Palm Springs International ShortFestGetty Images

If Roy has his way, the next guideline, which could become a rule, will ask countries to set time limits for their selection committees, similar to the three years for the AMPAS board of governors. (The Academy recommends six-year cycles, separated by two-year breaks.) Filmmakers have expressed frustration, Roy said, that they often don’t have room to shoot.

One step at a time. It’s clear that the Academy has no plans to ditch the one-film-per-country entry model anytime soon. For now, Roy says, it’s just a matter of “finding a way to make it work better.”

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