How The Foreign Language Film Submission Process Could Change

Earlier this year, but before the Academy Award cermonies, I wrote about how the Best Foreign Language Film submission process works and how I think it should change. Now, in proposing changes I was vague but made the point that the system is kind of broke and needs fixing.

To further examine this hypothesis this Oscar year, I will write two pieces. In this one, I’ll propose specifics and examine logistics of the proposed changes. Now, the main tenet of my argument is that some countries should be afforded additional submissions. Those additional submissions I believe should be awarded on a merit-based system. Again, this goes back vaguely to a FIFA-inspired system. The allocation of spots for each continent in the World Cup is partially influenced by size of the continent, but is more influenced by past results.

So with each echelon achieved more submissions will be afforded. The system will explain itself as it goes.

Here is a breakdown of the Oscar histories of the nations who have submitted a film for consideration in this year’s awards:

0 Nominations (32 Nations)

Aghanistan
Albania
Armenia
Azerbaijan
Bangladesh
Bulgaria
Chile
Colombia
Croatia
Dominican Republic
Estonia
Greenland
Iceland
Indonesia
Kenya
Kygyrzstan
Latvia
Lithuania
Malaysia
Morocco
Phillipines
Portugal
Romania
Serbia
Singaporean
Slovak Republic
Slovenia
South Korea
Thailand
Turkey
Ukraine
Uruguay
Venezuela

Nominated (7 Nations)

Finland
Georgia
Kazakhstan
Macedonia
Palestine
Peru
Vietnam

Multiple Nominations (8 Nations)

Israel (10 Nominations)
Poland (9 Nominations)
Mexico (9 Nominations)
Belgium (6 Nominations)
Greece (5 Nominations)
Brazil (4 Nominations)
Norway (4 Nominations)
India (3 Nominations)
China (2 Nominations)
Hong Kong (2 Nominations)

1 Win (9 Nations)

Algeria (Z)
Austria (38 – Vienna Before the Fall; One Additional Nomination)
Bosnia (No Man’s Land)
Canada (The Barbarian Invasions; 5 Additional Nominations)
Czech Republic (Kolya – 2 wins and 3 nominations as Czechoslovakia)
Hungary (Mephisto; 7 Additional Nominations)
Germany (The Tin Drum; 7 Additional Nominations)
Japan (Departures; 11 Additional Nominations; 3 Honorary Awards Prior to Inception of Category)
South Africa (Tsotsi; 1 Additional Nomination)
Taiwan (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; 2 Additional Nominations)

2 Wins (2 Nations)

Argentina (The Secret in their Eyes, The Official Story; 2 Additional Nominations)
Switzerland (Journey of Hope, First Love; 3 Additional Nominations)

3 Wins (4 Nations)

Denmark (Babette’s Feast, Pelle the Conqueror, In a Better World; 5 Additional Nominations)
Netherlands (Assault, Character, Antonia’s Line; 4 Additional Nominations)
Spain (The Sea Inside, All About My Mother, La Belle Epoque; 15 Additional Nominations)
Sweden (Fanny & Alexander, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, 10 Additional Nominations)

9 Wins

France (My Uncle, Black Orpheus [Brazilian story/Portuguese dialogue, French production], Sundays at Cybele, A Man and a Woman, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeouisie, Day For Night, Madame Rosa, Get Out Your Handekerchiefs, Indochine, 25 Additional Nominations, Three Honorary Awards Prior to Inception of Category)

10 Wins

Italy

La Stada, Nights of Cabiria, 8 1/2, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow; Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion; The Garden of Finzi Continis; Amarcord; The Legend of the Holy Drinker; Mediterraneo; Life is Beautiful; 19 Additional Nominations; 3 Honorary Awards Before the Inception of the Category)

Russia (Since fall of Communism)

4 Nominations; 1 Win

USSR

6 Nominations; 3 Wins

Totals: 4 wins, 10 Nominations

Quotas

With all that information, here is the breakdown of how I would award submissions.

Nation with No Nominations– 1 Film
Nation with a Nomination– 2 Films
Nation with Multiple Nominations– 3 Films
Nation with a Win– 4 Films
Nation with Multiple Wins– 5 Films

Now, history provides a few quirks, and being fundamentally a progressive, I will choose not to carry over wins and nominations from prior nations to current ones. Therefore, Russia is awarded their quota of films based on Russia’s submission history and is not buoyed by the USSR’s wins. The same goes for The Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The Continental Divide

With those statistics in mind, and keeping in mind my proposal that more viewers be brought into the selection process and be divvied up by region, here is an example of the viewing load that each section would have to take on. Now, I have also sub-divided Europe owing to the fact that there are many nominated and winning countries in the continent. This was also done to try to equalize the viewings among groups.

North America (4 Submitting Nations)

Canada
Greenland
Mexico
Dominican Republic

The screening load based on Canada winning and Mexico having multiple nominations with this group would be 9 films.

South America (7 submitting nations)

Chile
Colombia
Brazil
Argentina
Uruguay
Peru
Venezuela

If Brazil as a multiple nominee was allowed 3 films, Argentina as a multiple-winner was allowed 5, and Peru as a past nominee was allowed 2; the South American viewing group would still only be seeing 12 total films.

Africa

Algeria (4)
South Africa (4)
Kenya

Africa’s viewing group would screen 9 films.

Oceania

Austalia
Indonesia
Philippines
Taiwan
Hong Kong
Malaysia
Singapore

This viewing group would have 7 films.

Asia

Afghanistan
Armenia
Azerbaijan
Bangladesh
India (3)
Cambodia
Japan (3)
Georgia (2)
Israel (3)
Palestine
Kazakstan
Kyrgyzstan
Thailand
Turkey
Vietnam (2)

This group would view 23 films.

Europe

Albania
Austria (4)
Belgium (3)
Bosnia & Herzegovina (4)
Croatia
Czech Republic (4)
Denmark (5)
Estonia
Finland (2)
France (5)
Germany (4)
Greece (4)
Hungary (3)
Iceland
Italy (5)
Latvia
Lithuania
Macedonia (3)
Netherlands (5)
Norway (3)
Poland (3)
Portugal
Romania
Russia (4)
Serbia
Slovak Republic
Slovenia
Spain (5)
Sweden (5)
Switzerland (4)
Ukraine

75 Films maximum from Europe.

To alleviate viewer load geographical subdivisions would be necessary.

Scandanavia & Benelux (Sweden, Norway, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg)- 19 Films

Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Croatia, Romania, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bosnia & Herzogovina, Slovenia)- 21 films

Western Europe (France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Iceland)- 16 Films

Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic)- 19 films

Closing Findings

In spite of giving many nations additional submissions, the increase of films is not quite as drastic as expected. The 2012 submissions, if countries maximized their quotas, would be 125 as opposed 71. I fully expected to double the field.

I’d revamp the initial and final round scoring system. Films scoring above a 7.5 would be eligible for the next phase, and I’d also increase the scoring scale from 7 to 10 to 1 to 10. Only the highest scoring film from each nation with multiple submissions would be eligible for the next phase.

Let’s assume 2/3 of the field beats the score threshold, meaning about 83 films. Then assume that half those films are eliminated as multiples, you’re at 41 or 42 after the first phase.

At this point, I’d carry over the scores and have the remaining films screened for those who had not yet seen them. Scores could then be tabulated for the remaining candidates, and the shortlist would be determined.

Once the shortlist is determined, screeners go out the membership votes, and the nominees are decided based on that.

Conclusion

Is this system perfect? No, and there could be tweaks to the quotas and viewership logistics I’m sure I’m not considering. However, increasing the number for some countries above one can alleviate many issues in the selection process within those individual nations. What problems are those? I’ll get some support for my hypotheses regarding that in tomorrow’s post.

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Thankful For World Cinema: Simon and the Oaks

The Foreign Award Struggle

I touched upon this a while back when writing about Spud, and that is the marketing of films from around the world hits a pothole when trying to cite foreign film awards that American viewers as a whole are not familiar with. Invariably a national film award, whether it be from South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, or almost anywhere else (Those are just the nations I recall seeing with this distinction), will have their award name cited and then in parenthesis it will say “The Swedish Oscar,” or whatever the country it would happen to be.

I’ve been in theaters where this connotation has gotten a chuckle and I find that to be a very narrow-minded thing to do. I will grant that some national cinemas are just more prolific than others so some of these national awards may have more clout than others, but the fact remains that when I see films that have virtual sweeps in terms of nominations, and then you pair that with the fact that it wasn’t even the film submitted to the Oscars from a given country, that will make me take notice.

Which brings me to Simon and the Oaks. When I was last in New York, I was about to see Robot & Frank at the Paris Theater and I saw a synopsis. It seemed quite intriguing. The Paris being an independent theater usually only screens trailers for what they’ll soon be showing, and, sure enough, a trailer for Simon and the Oaks came on. The trailer made the film seem even more interesting than the synopsis did and what really stuck with me was that it was nominated for 13 Guldbagge Awards, the Swedish national film award (let’s avoid the O-word for propriety’s sake).

As I alluded to earlier, that’s nothing to sneeze at especially coming out of Sweden. Now, I won’t completely play the naive neophyte, I’m sure if you were to talk to connoisseurs of specific national cinemas they’d tell you that their awards have their tendencies and trends just like ours, but as I said I had already been sold on the film the awards were an additional curiosity. Then add the fact that it had been passed over as Sweden’s Official selection in favor of Lasse Hallström’s latest and I was further intrigued. Adding to the equation was the fact that it was picked up by the Film Arcade. I always am supportive of new players entering the distribution game, and their other acquisition thus far is The Other Dream Team, a doc about the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team, which also seems interesting.

Simon and the Oaks

So, external factors aside, how is Simon and the Oaks? It is very good and engaging indeed. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is the changes to the expected path it gives you. It sets itself up as an outsider’s, observer’s tale that as its child protagonist grows becomes more the focus and more central to the thematic conflicts than we were led to believe at the beginning of the film.

It further surprises by setting up well-crafted, well-written situations about World War II that while not all that unique are captivating. Then about midway through there’s a crucial revelation that really sends the structure of the film for a loop in a good way and subjugates the external struggles and factors, and makes the tale a far more internal one than was ever expected. The performances are strong through the whole cast.

Not only that but there are very interesting mirrored family dynamics that intertwine. The only real uneasy patch is right after the temporal shift, but things still sort themselves out. The film moves well enough such that it could’ve taken a bit more time to transition, but this is truly a minor quibble.

I’m a big stickler for the moment in which a film decides to end its narrative, and this film selects the perfect moment and does so with perfect symmetry and poetry. It’s a film that does well to underscore the fact that there are many films out in the global market that can find an audience in the states, and I’m glad to have gotten to see this one.

Thanksgiving Review: Garfield’s Thanksgiving

This Garfield Thanksgiving special is one, which unlike the Halloween special, I had no recollection of. It was like watching it again for the first time and it does some things very well.

Firstly, there is, of course, the comedic aspect which is present throughout. Mainly when Garfield explains the moral of the holiday: “The day we celebrate food by eating as much of it as we can.”

There are some good surprises in store and quite a bit of “Isn’t Jon stupid?” The latter you should be able to grin and bare it through enough to have a good time, after all it is short.

There is also quite a bit of good information disseminated about similar days worldwide while Jon is trying to stall Liz so she doesn’t know he’s not finished his food yet.

Once again there is a welcome bit of music added to the mix in this special which livens things up. Along with the appearance of Jon’s grandmother to save the day.

While this one doesn’t quite live up to the very high bar that the Halloween special sets up it is worth checking out especially since it’s on the same DVD bundle.