Marston’s film, shot on location in the Balkans country with a largely local crew and creative team, is about the modern impact of the country’s tradition of blood feuds.
With a Berlinale Silver Bear-award winning script that was co-written by an Albanian and dialogue that is all Albanian, the film was nominated late September after the Albanian Oscar committee checked that it met Academy Award criteria.
But after the director of “Amnesty,” one of three other local films that failed to make the cut, complained, the Academy revisited the issue last week and decided to disqualify “Blood.”
Bujar Alimani had written a formal letter of complaint to the Albanian National Center of Cinematography demanding that Marston’s film be disqualified on that grounds that it was a mainly American production.
That appears to have found a target in Los Angeles, where an Academy Awards committee is understood to have reviewed the decision and disqualified Marston’s film last week on the grounds that it failed to meet local crew composition criteria.
At a meeting Friday in Tirana, Albanian Oscar selectors that included all but one of the committee that had originally picked Marston’s film, took another vote and “Amnesty” was officially selected as the country’s nomination for foreign-lingo film.
The committee consisted of film industry professionals, Esat Musliu, Bujar Lako, Durim Neziri, and Agron Tufa but not writer Teodor Laco.
“The one board members who was most outspoken for ‘The Forgiveness of Blood,’ writer Teodor Laco, didn’t attend the meeting for personal reasons,” a film industry source in Tirana told Variety on Sunday.
The decision in L.A. to overrule the earlier nomination was not well received by some in Tirana.
Artan Minarolli, head of the ANCC, told Variety: “The board in Albania voted for ‘Forgiveness of Blood’ for some [particular] reasons. The most important are: The film is 100% in Albanian Language. The story and the support of Albania, too, is strong in this film. The producer is Albanian and one of the major producers here. He and the director spent a long time in Albania before the shooting and developed the script and the project in close relationship with Albanian and technical people.”
Minarolli added that he had tried to explain to the Academy committee in Los Angeles that because Albania has a small film industry it is inevitably closely connected with foreign professionals and all local films involve the participation of foreign creative talent and crew.
“It is a cosmopolitan cinema that tries to survives through cultural exchange. In the past Albania was totally isolated; today we try to find reality in cinema and to make up for the time we lost over the past 50 years. The Academy needs to understand this.”
However, Alimani, director of “Amnesty” welcomed the decision.
He told Variety that the original decision had been in “violation of the rules of the Academy itself; my protest was not for personal purposes, but because I feel that Albania has cinematographers who can be represented at a world level; selecting my film ‘Amnesty’ as the official Albanian nomination gives hope to young moviemakers in Albania and honors the work of all my staff.”
Marston, who learned Albanian during the making of his film, “The Forgiveness of Blood,” said: “It’s disappointing, to be sure. There was so much Albanian creative involvement in the making of the film. For the Academy to focus only on six key crew positions as the barometer of its Albanian-ness, to me, is sad.”
He added: “The film [‘The Forgiveness of Blood’] is made by Albanians, in Albania, about Albania and in the Albanian language. And yet a great film like Kaurismaki’s ‘Le Havre,’ which was shot in France with a French cast and a French story, qualifies as Finnish? And ‘As If I Am Not There,’ which was shot in the Balkans and is in Serbo-Croat with a cast from that region, qualifies as Irish? It’s absurd.
“I think there’s a problem with the system when Hollywood claims to know better than the submitting country whether a film belongs to them. It is incredibly disempowering and disenchanting for a country with a young film industry.”