When it comes to its choices for cinematic achievements each year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. takes its fair share of knocks. But in the foreign-language film category, the HFPA’s roughly 90 voting members seem to get a little more credit for picking the best of what the world has to offer.
Through a looser set of rules and a different nomination process, the HFPA often recognizes films that aren’t even eligible for the Academy Award.
“We approach it very liberally,” says Serge Rakhlin, chairman of the HFPA’s foreign-language film committee. “Producers can submit films; directors can submit films — there’s no limit on films from a particular country.”
Rakhlin highlights one of the biggest differences between how the HFPA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences go about selecting films: the HFPA doesn’t limit each country to one film per year in the category. AMPAS also lets the home country choose its official selection, a process that, in certain territories, has become more about backroom decisions and politics than awards.
“I like this tradition, and it’s in our bylaws,” Rakhlin says of allowing multiple films from one country. “I would even say it prevents politicking, which prevents the best films from being sent for awards.”
Oscar selection committees in countries including Russia and Spain have been criticized in the U.S. for allowing internal conflict to dominate the process.
“Our main criteria is the quality of the film, not the cultural differences or political views. It’s not influenced by anything but the art,” Rakhlin says.
In order to qualify for the foreign-language Golden Globe, a film must have at least 51% of its dialogue in a non-English language, it must be released in its native country between Nov. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2014, and it must have an official screening for HFPA voting members. Documentaries do not qualify for the category and foreign-language entries are not eligible in the best musical-comedy or best drama categories.
Unlike the Oscars, the Globes’ foreign category rules do not disqualify American productions that are in another language, the most recent example of which was Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey” in 2011.
A new rule for this year’s race also puts foreign-language animated films into the animation category for the first time. Last year, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated “The Wind Rises” earned a foreign-language Globe nom, but competed in the animated feature race for the Oscars.
“It was ambiguous in the past,” says HFPA chief operating officer and general counsel Gregory Goeckner. “We met with the members earlier in the year and discussed it and decided it was time to clarify it. The principle purpose of the award is the type of picture not the language.”
Goeckner adds that the group’s vetting process for foreign films involves a meeting with the membership late in the year to determine that each submission meets the qualifications.
“We get questions regularly in the fall, so we’ve often had a chance to discuss these things in advance,” he says. “It’s more a question of release window, whether it’s released in the country of origin during the 14-month period. Sometimes there are many countries of origin.”
While the Academy saw a record 83 foreign-language submissions this season, the HFPA’s number generally remains steady around 65, which is the number submitted this year. The Academy uses a system in which volunteer committees watch a percentage of eligible films to create a shortlist from which the nominees are culled, but the HFPA expects its members to see every film. Though it can be time-consuming, Rakhlin says it’s an enjoyable part of the job.
“Our members like movies — that’s why we are working in the field. To me, the more the merrier,” he says.
Some pundits have gone so far as to suggest the Academy adopt some of the HFPA’s foreign-language tactics, but it’s worth noting that a single film took home both the foreign-language Golden Globe and Oscar last year: Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty.” So Rakhlin says he’s happy to stay focused on refining his own organization’s rules, rather than comparing the Globes to the Oscars.
“It’s not up to me to give any advice to the Academy,” Rakhlin says. “They have their own system of accepting films, of judging them, of nominating them. It’s their business, and I respect what they do.”