Members transcend borders with votes

However strange it may be that a high-profile American film award is decided upon by a small group of writers for foreign publications, it does raise the question: Do the politics and cultural mores of the voters’ home countries affect their Golden Globes picks?

Often maligned, mostly unfamiliar to the nearly 19 million viewers who watched last year’s Golden Globes, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. is one of the biggest enigmas of the awards season milieu. The 92 members of the HFPA are not necessarily foreign-born (though many are), but they must contribute a specific number of articles to foreign publications in a given year in order to remain active voting members. As such, members’ output runs the gamut from sporadic freelancing to regular correspondent work, with around 50 countries represented.

Are HFPA members ever tempted to vote simply for their home teams?

“If you look at the foreign-language movies that have been nominated over the past years, you have your answer right there,” says Lorenzo Soria, chairman of the HFPA board of directors. “The largest contingent of our members is German, yet we haven’t had a German movie nominated in years, and we haven’t had a German movie win as far back as I can remember.”

Indeed, a glance at the foreign-language film category dispels any notions of nationalist bias from the Globes jury. While the HFPA’s noms in the acting and picture categories typically are slightly more eccentric versions of what ends up on the Academy ballot, the foreign-language film prize often goes to edgier fare, such as last year’s controversial Palestinian drama “Paradise Now.”

That film was criticized in many quarters for its sympathetic portrayal of two suicide bombers. But it seemed to suffer no ill will from the HFPA’s three Israeli representatives, including HFPA member Emanuel Levy — a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post — who was one of the film’s early champions.

“We don’t talk politics,” Levy says about the vote.

Adds critic and author David Thomson: “I think it just depends on the movies. I think that this year (voters) will be very much behind ‘The Queen,’ because they like to back winners. I don’t think they will be too interested in ‘Babel,’ even though it is much more a film about the rest of the world, about foreignness as it relates to America. I don’t think they see themselves as a reflection of world politics.”

Levy says the international nature of the HFPA does help to expand the number of films in consideration, with members calling attention to unheralded talent from their own territories.

“Sometimes someone from Eastern Europe might say, ‘There’s this new director coming up, watch for him,’ ” Levy notes.

Animated films, which tend to enjoy transcontinental popularity, also have done well at the Globes, with three picking up top picture honors in the past 15 years.

“Animated films usually transcend language,” Soria explains, “so it’s possible that they have more resonance with us.”

And yet, on the whole, this small, loose band of foreign journalists tends to keep notably in step with American tastes.

“We are somewhat of a microcosm of the world at large,” Soria says. “And because of our differences, we somehow come up with choices that seem very much in tune with those of the rest of the world.”

Thomson offers a different explanation: “I think that, in show business, the foreign element that comes to Hollywood has always hoped to stay, from Garbo onward. And most of (the HFPA members) have.”

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