Record number of pix play in foreign field

Solid reviews, year-end releases give imports exposure

Welcome to the sometimes confusing world of the Golden Globes foreign film category, whose worth no two distributors, marketers or sales reps can agree on.

“A Golden Globes nomination for a foreign-language film is the perfect launch pad for a U.S. release.”

“A Globes nom is overrated.”

“To be one of the five films selected for the Globes’ foreign race is fine for a distributor, if that distributor has thoroughly mapped out every other aspect of a release campaign like Gen. Sherman marching south.”

A Brazilian affair

There’s no question where Miramax Films stands. By opening Walter Salles’ drama of feuding landowners, “Behind the Sun,” at Laemmle’s Royal Theater in West L.A. on the Wednesday before the close of balloting for voting members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the company openly demonstrated its interest in the Globes race, not only as a precursor to the Oscars (“Behind the Sun” is Brazil’s official entry) but for the Globes themselves.

Few, if any, foreign films open on a Wednesday, and the decision, says Miramax’s L.A. chief Mark Gill, “was driven by the Globes, but also by the critics’ groups,” such as the L.A. Film Critics Assn.

Compare this to Wellspring Media (formerly Winstar) theatrical distribution VP Wendy Lidell, who says, “I don’t follow the Globes very closely. I couldn’t find their foreign-language category on their Web site. That says how important it seems to us.”

Wellspring had good reason to ignore the Globes, since the HFPA was compelled by its qualifying rules to ignore it: The distrib’s Iranian drama, Jafar Panahi’s award-winning “The Circle,” was banned by censors from screens in Iran, and since it couldn’t show in its home country, the film was not eligible for the Globes.

“It’s a shame,” says Mike Goodridge, HFPA foreign film committee member and Screen Intl.’s U.S. editor, “but we’re bound by the rules. Beyond that, there was a huge selection of foreign films this year, and even then, several didn’t make it in for our consideration, including Laurent Cantet’s ‘Time Out,’ Eric Rohmer’s ‘The Lady and the Duke’ and Jean-Luc Godard’s ‘Eloge de l’amour.'”

The homeland mistreatment of “The Circle” is the exception; If a notable film didn’t get onto the list of eligible pics (39 this year), it was probably because the film’s producers, sales agent or even its home country’s consulate didn’t help secure a print that could be theatrically screened for HFPA members.

“Consulates sometimes play a key role,” Goodridge notes, “both as a conduit and a host for the film and filmmakers.”

South of the border

One of the five nominees is IFC Films’ “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” from Mexican helmer Alfonso Cuaron.

IFC’s Bob Berney was pleased with the attention because the pic is not Mexico’s official Oscar selection: “The Globe nomination is a really big deal, since the Mexican committee chose to overlook it. It helps us establish the film early in the U.S. market prior to its March release, and fits into our long-term preparation, involving long-lead Latino and English-language press.”

Having worked on “Memento,” Berney says, “I learned the benefits of patiently positioning a high-quality film months before it appears.”

Similarly benefiting from a Globe nom is Mira Nair’s “Monsoon Wedding,” whose home country of India selected the epic “Lagaan” for the Oscar derby. And, like IFC, “Monsoon” distrib USA Films is launching the Hindu- and English-lingo pic early in 2002.

“To get to the top five Globe nominees is a tremendous task since there’s a large pool of some 100 or more films potentially competing,” observes Neil Friedman, chief of Menemsha Pictures and sales rep for the Argentine Oscar entry and Globe hopeful “Son of the Bride.”

“Bride,” now looking for a U.S. distrib, failed to secure a Globe nomination, but if it had, “then we would get three to four distributor offers” immediately, Friedman says.

Friedman’s hopes remain for an Oscar nom — which would virtually lock a release deal — but with either a Globe or Oscar, “It’s a great (leg up) for a foreign film in a tough market.”

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