How many people have seen any of the 40 foreign-language films submitted for this year’s Academy Awards?
That’s the question facing producers and distributors. They know that getting attention for foreign-language films is incredibly tough, but absolutely necessary for garnering an Oscar nomination.
In an attempt to generate recognition, many of the films submitted for consideration are also submitted to the Nortel Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival.
“Our biggest claim to fame is our ability to host the Academy Award submissions from around the world,” says fest director Craig Prater, who goes on to explain that the main reason for this emphasis is the festival’s timing. Occurring in mid-January, the festival perfectly precedes the nominations.
However, there are many reasons beyond timing that make the Palm Springs fest an advantageous stop for foreign pics. First, the fest organizers take great pride in finding the best foreign-language films, and as a result, the festival has over its 11-year history gained a reputation as a global showcase.
The festival also works hard to promote the various international entries, hosting parties and working with the press to generate attention. Participation is excellent from the top international filmmakers, with Roberto Benigni attending last year and Pedro Almodovar expected this year to accept the Intl. Filmmaker’s Award.
Because it hosts such a strong slate of foreign-language pics, the festival has also become a major event for the foreign press. “The international media comes here and covers everything,” says Prater.
“The festival is also a great testing ground for a film,” continues Prater. “We have a dedicated and sophisticated audience, so in addition to getting exposure, a company can test the waters with an audience.”
Yet another key feature is the fact that the sunny desert community is home to 300 voting members of the Academy.
“When a film screens here, it will most likely be seen by many members, which is better than having the film screened on videotape,” explains Prater.
Last year’s fest screened Benigni’s “Life Is Beautiful,” which was already playing in theaters but which Miramax still wanted to screen at the fest. “I think Miramax knows about our reputation for hosting the submissions,” says Prater, suggesting that the distrib wanted the imprimatur the fest affords.
According to Prater, the 1,100-seat theater where the film screened was filled to capacity. “And Benigni was in love with the audience, and seeing him jumping around on-stage was certainly one of the highlights of the festival.”
This year, the fest will also screen many of the Academy submissions.
“We have 31 of the 40 submitted films,” says Prater proudly. “This is the largest number of submissions this year, and there is no doubt that we have several of the films that will be nominated.”
One of those films is “Saranggola” (The Kite), the official Philippine selection for best foreign-language film. Directed by Gil M. Portes and recently acquired by Quantum Entertainment, the film premiered in June at the Manila Film Festival, where it received numerous awards including best picture. The film has also been screened at the Montreal and Hawaii Intl. Film Festivals.
According to Pat Pawlak, VP international at Quantum, the film will also screen in Palm Springs in a move to generate attention.
“Quantum is a smaller company,” she explains, “and so the question for us is always how to get attention without spending the money that larger companies have. For the Palm Springs festival, we are bringing the director, Gil Portes, and the film’s star, Ricky Davao, who is a heartthrob in the Philippines, and we want to host a party for the film with the consulate.”
Pawlak explains that it helps to support an official selection with an event involving an official organization. “The consulate might take out an ad with an invitation to a party,” she says, “and this helps bring more prestige to the film. And the festival is very helpful in helping organize these events.”
For Prater, now it’s just a matter of time to see just how many of this year’s 31 submitted films end up as nominations. With screenings including Germany’s World War II lesbian drama “Aimee and Jaguar,” India’s controversial “Earth” and Denmark’s intense “Mifune,” the schedule seems likely to inspire both festgoers and Academy voters.