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Academy has new plan of inclusion

Rule changes made after last year's criticism

Last year the nine foreign-language films selected by the Academy for its shortlist caused an uproar.

The absence of some of the year’s most widely discussed and heralded pics, including Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” Carlos Reygadas’ “Silent Light,” Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” and Fatih Akin’s “The Edge of Heaven” upset cineastes around the world.

In an attempt to avoid further oversights, the org revised its voting rules for 2009 submissions.

Like last year, the foreign-language committee, which is open to any voting member who views a minimum number of the 67 eligible films, will divide the pics into four color-coded viewing groups (with roughly 17 films designated per group). Members of each section will be required to view 80% of the films in their grouping. But unlike last year, this committee will no longer select all nine films for the shortlist. Instead they will select just six.

An executive committee of more than 20 veteran members of the foreign-language committee will be in charge of selecting the three additional titles in order to reach the final shortlist total of nine. Selections will be made after the phase-one voting has been tallied. This is in the hope that if the phase one committee happens to overlook a deserving pic, the exec committee will swoop in to reconsider the film.

Viewing groups in New York and Los Angeles will screen the final nine prior to the Jan. 22 nomination announcement to select the five nominees.

This isn’t the first instance of change for the branch.

Over the last few years, it has bent rules, re-evaluated stipulations and altered the voting process. After Michael Haneke’s French-language Austrian submission “Cache” and Italy’s Arabic-language “Private” were rejected in 2005, for example, the committee repealed its statute that a film had to be in the official language of the submitting country.

“The various adjustments made in the past few years to the procedures in the foreign-language film category have all had the objective of increasing the likelihood that the five films nominated in the category will be the year’s five most remarkable achievements,” says Academy executive director Bruce Davis. “By instituting three separate phases of careful viewing and evaluating of the contending films, the Academy is attempting to arrive at the most distinguished slate of nominees possible each year.”

This could be good news for foreign-language pics that are popular and critically acclaimed — a classification condition that, in the past, the committee didn’t necessarily take to.

This year those films include Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or winner “The Class,” Ari Folman’s Israeli entry “Waltz With Bashir,” Matteo Garrone’s Italian mafia epic “Gomorrah,” Bent Hamer’s Norwegian “O’Horten,” Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Kazakhstani entry “Tulpan” and Jan Troell’s “Everlasting Moments.”

Yet, despite the many rule revisions that the committee has made over the years, there are always surprises.

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