Who gets to compete? Every year that question sparks controversy in Oscar’s foreign-language category. 2005 was especially contentious as four of the 58 submitted films were disqualified for technical reasons (either failing to provide prints or featuring too much English dialogue), and two high-profile foreign-language pics — Austria-submitted “Cache” and Italian “Private,” in which Arabic and Hebrew are spoken — were rejected outright.
The major change for 2006 no longer requires a country’s submission to reflect one of its native tongues. Ironically, only “Private” would have benefited last year, but change permits Deepa Mehta’s Hindi-language Canadian entry, “Water,” to compete this year.
Other reforms point to the committee’s internal need for fairness (members may now abstain from voting on a particular submission) and greater participation from its Gotham brethren. Whereas West Coast voters picked the five noms in previous years, three smaller committees (including one in New York) will review a nine-pic short list in January before electing the final five.