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Amid ‘Aquarius’ Row, Brazil Submits ‘Little Secret’ for Oscar (EXCLUSIVE)

Brazil has selected David Schurmann’s three-part drama “Little Secret” to represent the country at the 89th Academy Awards, defying protests from a slew of filmmakers who withdrew their own films from contention after the appointment of film critic Marcus Petrucelli to Brazil’s foreign Oscar selection committee.

Petrucelli had made remarks on social media denouncing “Aquarius” filmmaker Kleber Mendonça Filho and his team for protesting against Brazil’s then interim government under Michel Temer while competing for the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

“Brazil has been going through a tumultuous time, as you know,” Schurmann said in an interview with Variety. “I absolutely loved ‘Aquarius’ but there was pressure to compare the movie to what is happening in the country … Unfortunately, picking the Oscars in Brazil has fallen into a political trench, which may hurt films like ours, as people are being pushed to choose not the right film to go to the Oscars, but the one with a political angle and agenda.”

He stressed that there were eight other members on the selection committee in addition to Petrucelli, “presided by director Bruno Barreto,” he said, “who has been to the Oscars and knows what works best at the Academy Awards.”

Inspired by the life of Schurmann’s adopted sister, “Little Secret,” made for $3 million, boasts world-class talent including “Central Station” scribe Marcos Bernstein, who co-penned the film with Victor Atherino; Peru’s Inti Briones, a Variety Cinematographer to Watch; and German art director Brigitte Broch, a production designer on “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Moulin Rouge!” (for which she won an Academy Award).

A record 17 Brazilian films were submitted for consideration this year.

“Shame is the least I can say about the team and the cast of ‘Aquarius,’” Petrucelli wrote on Facebook during the Cannes fest. He later posted: “So it was like this: A movie made with public money goes to Cannes to represent Brazil and does not win any awards. Therefore, the lie about the alleged coup d’etat did not do anything but ridicule Brazil.”

Given the derogatory remarks Petrucelli made about Mendonça’s politics, filmmakers like Anna Muylaert (“Don’t Call Me Son”), Aly Muritiba (“Para Minha Amada Morta”) and Gabriel Mascaro (“Neon Bull”) viewed it as a conflict of interest and an attempt to keep “Aquarius” from repping the country on Hollywood’s biggest night. To underscore support for “Aquarius,” they bowed out of the process. Actress Ingra Liberato and director Guilherme Fiúza Zenha, meanwhile, resigned from the selection committee.

Mendonça’s drama, starring Sonia Braga as a widow who defies efforts by developers to force her out of her apartment building, has won several awards on the festival circuit, including a Grand Jury Prize at the Amsterdam Film Festival.

Even if it’s out of the foreign film race, “Aquarius” still has a few moves it could make in the Oscar season. The film is set for release Stateside in October, making it eligible in other categories. A robust campaign for Braga could draw on any goodwill left in the wake of this controversy.

Distributor Diamond Films plans a September bow for “Little Secret” in Brazil, followed by a wider release in November.

Oct. 3 is the deadline to submit foreign-language Oscar entries. The nominations will be announced Jan. 24 and the awards will be held Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

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