Foreign newcomers try to learn campaign ropes

Chad, Afghanistan lack film industry

This article was clarified on Jan. 23, 2003.

The foreign-language Oscar race is a baptism by fire for three newcomers to the category.

The Academy was skedded to unspool Chad’s “Abouna” for the foreign-language committee on Dec. 8, but the reel couldn’t be found, so Afghanistan’s “FireDancer” was subbed in. (The print was later found.)

“FireDancer” producer John Roche worried the switch would hurt his pic, but the Acad’s John Pavlik said since the same people were to see both pics, it didn’t matter.

Of Afghanistan, Chad and Bangladesh, only the latter has any kind of a film industry. But without U.S. distribution, all three entries are still learning the basics of Oscar campaigning.

Roche came to L.A. from New York with co-producer/associate director Vida Zaher Khadem and a newly made second print Wednesday, hoping to set up more screenings and a reception sponsored by the Afghan ambassador.

“We have the most interesting story,” adds Roche, who came on board because the director and producer were out of commission.

The dismembered body of director Jawed Wassel was found in the van of producer Nathan Powell last year. Powell’s in jail awaiting his April 1 trial. Roche said Wassel was killed over points.

At least the producer and director of Bangladesh’s entry, “Clay Bird,” have better relations. Director Tareque Masud is married to producer Catherine Masud.

“The people are so proud of us,” said Tareque Masud, who came to California for the Palm Springs Film Fest for unspooling of his pic. “Clay Bird” won the Fipresci Award at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes last spring.

Chad’s first year in the competish with “Abouna” is likely to be low-profile — in addition to the misplaced print, director Mahamet Saleh Haroun said that while Chadians are thrilled to be repped in the Oscar race, “There is no plan to campaign for our movie. We are so sorry to be absent, but there is no money in the budget to do that.”

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