AMPAS disqualifies 8th pic in foreign-lingo race

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has disqualified Singapore entry “Be With Me” from its foreign-language race — meaning eight pics have been KO’d so far, the highest total in 22 years.

In the past decade, the Acad has seen at most one disqualification a year, which raises the question: Why so many now?

AMPAS execs are themselves puzzled. Four of the films were nixed because they did not adhere to the rule that the film must be in one of the principal languages of the submitting country.

Others were disqualified because of a variety of snafus, including missed deadlines and misfiled papers.

Singapore director Eric Khoo’s “Be With Me,” a hit on the festival circuit, involves multiple storylines and three languages. After its official screening for the committee at AMPAS’ Beverly Hills headquarters last weekend, members questioned whether the pic’s dominant language was English.

Rules state that eligible foreign-language films must be predominantly in a non-English language. Besides English, other languages in the pic are Mandarin and the regional Chinese language Hokkien. (Pic also includes sign language between some characters.)

The film’s soundtrack was subsequently timed, and English was determined to be the dominant language.

Acad spokeswoman Teni Melodian noted that “the committee frequently won’t be able to know if a film qualifies under the rules until it’s officially screened.”

Two films were nixed before the official list was announced Oct. 25. Pantelis Voulgaris’ “Brides” from Greece was similarly disqualified for too much English, and Michael Haneke’s “Cache” was disqualified as Austria’s entry on grounds that its dialogue is in French, not German.

Italy submitted a new film, Cristina Comencini’s “Don’t Tell,” when its original submission, Saverio Costanzo’s “Private,” was rejected for a soundtrack largely in Arabic and Hebrew and including not a word of Italian.

Alfredo Anzola’s Venezuelan historical adventure “1888” fell by the wayside when the required entry forms didn’t arrive at AMPAS offices.

Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Tajikistani pic “Sex & Philosophy” and Fernando Vargas’ Bolivian drama “Say Good Morning to Dad” were dropped because 35 mm prints were never delivered to the Academy.

Mijke de Jong’s adolescent drama “Bluebird,” originally lensed for and aired on Dutch TV, was nixed for being too similar to the broadcast version — another rule violation.

From an original field of 58 submissions, the number of contenders is now down to 54. (Some countries had time to replace their disqualified entries.)

The tally is the second-highest since the category was created in 1956 — surpassed only by 1983, when nine films were disqualified.

While admitting that rules are tweaked annually, Acad officials work to communicate the rules and any amendments to submitting countries, which are available on AMPAS’ regularly updated Web site. In addition, a hard copy of the updated rules are delivered with the invitation for submission.

Officials also stressed that if producers or country officials are unclear about any aspect of the rules, they should immediately contact the Acad.

“Usually,” said AMPAS historian Patrick Stockstill, “films have been disqualified for showing theatrically in their home country before or after the 12-month timeframe. There’s no case of that this year.”

Instead, the various causes for this year’s round of KO’d films are rare, if not unprecedented.

As Stockstill pointed out: “There’s been no sign in recent years that countries were struggling to qualify. In fact, the trend has suggested just the opposite. From 1995 until this year, there were either one or no films disqualified annually. Prior to 1995, the average number was higher, mostly two per year, sometimes three or four. It most recently peaked in 1991, with seven. Since, it’s been downward.”

That is, until now. Acad officials surmised that the current bundle of rejected films could be merely a fluke but agreed that if the problem persists in upcoming years, the process for foreign-language submissions may need to be revisited.

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