×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Oscars: Will Opening Up Foreign-Language Voting Yield a Fresh Take?

Opinion is split over whether changes will improve final selection

Oct. 1 is the deadline for Oscar foreign-language submissions, and there are already some benchmarks: Saudi Arabia offered up its first-ever entry, and Pakistan will be part of the race for the first time in 50 years.

But the real gamechanger this year is in the voting rules at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. For the first time since the category was created in 1956, the entire voting membership can determine the foreign-language winner.
And observers are split on whether this is a good thing.

On the upside, it gets the 6,000 members more involved in the category. And it eliminates some logistical problems: Under the old system, anyone who voted in the category was required to see all the contenders on the bigscreen, which wasn’t always easy.

Now, the nominations will still be determined by committee. But in the final voting, the Academy will provide screeners of all five nominated foreign-lingo contenders. So, as with all the other categories, the big question is whether voters will watch all the contenders before they vote.

Tom Bernard, co-topper of Sony Pictures Classics, said to Variety, “One of the most important thing when any Academy member votes: You have to see the film. In the old rules, anyone who had seen all five (foreign-language contenders) could vote. Now the Academy is leaving it up to the constituency. Hopefully, everyone will take great care with these new rules and be responsible.”

He underlined the importance of the vote, noting that a nomination represents “a great cultural moment” for each country.
SPC co-topper Michael Barker added, “If the voters see all these films, it’s a great move. If they don’t, it makes it a popularity contest. But the Academy is doing something very smart, by sending, at their own cost, all five to voters. This helps the countries that may not have the budget to do that.”

In the next week, Academy reps will review the entries, to make sure all of them meet the eligibility requirements.
Phase I voting is unchanged: Several hundred Los Angeles-based members will divide up the contenders (last year, there were 71) and form three or four committees. The groups will watch their portion and rate the films numerically.

An exec committee will take the top six vote-getters and add three other selections, based on merit. A few years ago, the Academy took a lot of heat when some films failed to gain a nomination, like the 2007 Romanian pic “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.” Since then, there have been some offbeat and worthwhile nominations, such as Greece’s 2010 black comedy “Dogtooth” and Belgium’s 2011 “Bullhead”; however, the Academy consistently refuses to divulge whether any of the five nominees came from the exec committee.

The list of nine semi-finalists will be announced in early January, then winnowed down to five. Those contenders will be announced with all other Oscar noms on Jan. 16. Then all the voting members will have to start their homework and watch films.

One Acad voter (who asked not to be identified) says foreign-language films often require more work of voters, since there are subtitles and the films may reflects different cultures and different sets of values. “When you’re ‘forced’ to see a film on the bigscreen, it’s easier to see its merits. When you’re watching a screener at home, with interruptions, it may create more problems for films that are more complex and that require full engagement.”

In addition to the screeners, however, the Academy will continue its tradition of offering theatrical screenings of all its nominated films, so voters can have the bigscreen experience.

Mark Johnson (who just won an Emmy, as exec producer of AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) is again chairing the foreign-language committee. Bruce Davis and Ron Yerxa served that role last year.

Last week, Variety ran a guest column by Toronto Fest artistic director Cameron Bailey, who posited the idea that countries ought to be allowed more than one submission. So obviously, the discussion this season about the category and rules is just beginning.

Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences created the category, Pakistan has submitted only two previous entries,  “Jago hua savera” in 1959 and “Ghunghat” in 1963.

Under Acad rules, a film has to play continuously for a week in its country of origin. The Saudi government banned movie theaters in the 1980s, but the restrictions have eased a bit. An Academy rep said the film clearly qualifies, and played at screenings on military bases and oil fields in the country.

More Film

  • Woody Allen Developing Next Film With

    Woody Allen Teams with Spain’s Mediapro for Next Film

    MADRID — Woody Allen is re-teaming with Spain’s Mediapro, one of Europe’s biggest independent film-TV companies, to develop his next film with an eye it seems to shooting in Spain. Mediapro co-financed and co-produced two of Allen’s highest-grossing movies, 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which grossed $96.4 million worldwide, and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris” which earned [...]

  • 'Stitches' Review: Berlin Film Festival

    Berlin Film Review: 'Stitches'

    An elegant hybrid of true-story exposé and slow-moving arthouse thriller, Serbian director Miroslav Terzić’s sober sophomore feature “Stitches” takes a familiar idea — a lone crusader taking on a corrupt system in pursuit of the truth — but delivers an unusually thoughtful, psychologically compelling character study. Taking its cue from Snežana Bogdanović’s eerily composed but fathomless [...]

  • Aruna and Her Palate review

    Berlin Film Review: ‘Aruna & Her Palate’

    When mouthwatering Indonesian cuisine and romance are on the table, “Aruna & Her Palate” is a bouncy crowd-pleaser. Less tasty is the backdrop of a suspected bird flu outbreak that brings a food-loving epidemiologist into contact with her secret crush. Adapted from Laksmi Pamuntjak’s 2014 novel “The Bird Woman’s Palate,” “Aruna” manages to overcome its [...]

  • 'Duke' Review: Two Fake Cops Patrol

    Film Review: 'Duke'

    If you can envision “Let’s Be Cops” reconstituted as a noirish psychodrama, you may be adequately prepared for “Duke,” an uneven but arresting indie thriller about two siblings who are driven to heroic extremes by childhood traumas. Co-directed by twin brothers James and Anthony Gaudioso, who also appear in strikingly different supporting roles, the film [...]

  • Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in

    Greek Director Probes Deeper Issues in Berlin Festival Film 'Sargasso Sea'

    After a sudden suicide turns a small eel-farming town upside down, an investigation unearths troubling secrets about the town’s past. Those discoveries will bring together two women trapped in solitary lives, offering each a chance to find salvation. “The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea” is the third feature by Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas. Starring frequent [...]

  • Xavier Legrand Custody

    France's Cesar Awards Leads the Way for the Oscars

    Since 2011, France’s Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma has steadfastly held its annual awards ceremony the Friday before the Academy Awards. And if launching the Césars two days before the Oscars holds a real, practical benefit — allowing those walking both red carpets time to linger over their last flutes of Champagne before [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content