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Global Talent Expand Their Oscar Horizons

This year’s Oscar nominees are reflective of worldwide talent, many of whom were born outside of America. So while diversity in gender and color in awards season is still playing catch-up, diversity in foreign actors, writers, producers, and other moviemaking essentials is here to stay.

Oscar nominee “Lion’s” international pedigree cannot be argued with, taking noms for best picture (Iain Canning, Emile Sherman and Angie Fielder), supporting actor (Dev Patel), supporting actress (Nicole Kidman), adapted screenplay (Luke Davies), cinematography (Greig Fraser), and original score (Hauschka).

“As producers we’re deeply committed to telling diverse stories like ‘Lion’ because cinema should reflect the world we live in,” Canning says. “We put together an incredibly talented group of actors and crew who were all hugely passionate about bringing Saroo [Brierley]’s story to life in India and Tasmania.”

Sherman, Canning’s partner at See-Saw Films, says: “The exciting thing about ‘Lion’ is that it’s a distinctly Australian story that hits people in a universal and primal way as it explores the ties that bind us. It’s got something important to say about humans and that’s crucial to us as storytellers.”

All of “Lion’s” nominated producers were born outside the U.S., making it the only best picture Oscar contender with that distinction. “It’s a dream come true to be nominated,” Fielder says. “I’m very proud of the Australian film industry, which is much smaller than Hollywood, so it’s wonderful that confident stories are being told.”

And with a screenplay from an Australian writer, the film was able to keep that homegrown element. “I love that the film industry is an international collection of talent,” Davies says. “This year’s diverse selection of nominees speaks to the beautiful stories being told and the world’s appetite for meaningful cinema.”

“The exciting thing about ‘Lion’ is that it’s a distinctly Australian story that hits people in a universal and primal way.”
Emile Sherman

Hacksaw Ridge” marks Mel Gibson’s awards-season return, scoring nominations for best picture, and foreign talent in the director (Gibson), editor (John Gilbert), as well as in the sound mixing and sound editing (Robert Mackenzie, Andy Wright) categories. Producer Bill Mechanic says: “Shooting in Australia allowed us to stretch our dollar and maximize our production. The talent level in Australia is parallel to Hollywood, but it’s not as deep, so it’s competitive.

Gibson was intrinsic to the picture’s success, as he infused his personality into the film. He’s one of the best filmmakers in the business. Nobody wanted to finance ‘Hacksaw,’ so it only got made by shooting in Australia and receiving subsidies. We made a great film and I’m proud of our nominations.”

New Zealand’s Gilbert, a previous Oscar nominee for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” was excited by the chance to collaborate with Gibson. “Mel’s record speaks for itself with ‘Braveheart,’ ‘The Passion [of the Christ]’ and ‘Apocalypto,’” he says. “But I knew nothing of his method. He’s very open to trying new ideas, and once I’d assembled some of the battle scenes, I think I won him over.”

Mackenzie is particularly proud of his home country’s ability to produce strong cinematic talent. “Australia is so far away from the rest of the world,” he says. “We work hard at what we do, and look up to the amazing talent that comes out of Hollywood. To be recognized by the distinguished and talented people in the Academy makes me so proud of our team of Australian sound editors, mixers and Foley artists that gave their all to ‘Hacksaw Ridge.’”

Australia registered big in 2017, with 13 Oscar nominations, which excites Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia, the government federal funding agency for all screen content. “This is a record haul for Australian film, and to have two films up for best picture is extraordinary. Australia has a population of 23 million, and we make about 30 feature films a year, so this is a hugely significant result for us,” Mason says. “This year’s nominees show the breadth of stories Australian creatives are now telling — from a true story centered on an Indian-Australian, filmed on two continents and in three languages, to an American war story with a stellar international cast, to a low-budget, big-hearted love story filmed in Vanuatu in a foreign language [‘Tanna’].”

“Lion,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” and “Arrival” all have overseas auspices.
Courtesy of The Weinstein Co/Summit Entertainment/Paramount

Arrival” tallied eight nominations, including picture, and director for French-Canadian helmer Denis Villeneuve. Nominated producer Shawn Levy, also a native of Canada, says, “We never expected an Oscar nomination for best picture, considering the Academy’s occasional blind spot in recent years to include science-fiction efforts. But this was a story that felt unique, like the ‘middle part’ to most sci-fi movies you don’t get a chance to see, centering on this discussion of humanity and communication. I’m thrilled that those nominated reflect worldwide talent who are yearning to tell important stories. And I love working in an industry that affords us this chance.”

The short-film categories are extremely representative of worldwide filmmaking talent. Theatrical screenings are supplemented with online streaming so that branch members around the world can participate in the voting process to determine the 10-film shortlist, and the five nominees. According to an AMPAS representative, submissions in the short film categories came from 37 countries, and of the 200 nominees, 77 were created outside U.S., representing 23 foreign countries.

Three of the nominated cinematographers were born outside the U.S., with Fraser’s ASC-award winning work on “Lion,” while Mexico’s Rodrigo Prieto reteamed with Martin Scorsese on “Silence,” and Sweden’s Linus Sandgren collaborated with director Damien Chazelle on “La La Land.”

“I needed someone who could visually excavate Los Angeles and bring an outsider’s view to the city, as I wanted an almost European approach to Technicolor in ‘La La Land,’” says Chazelle. Sandgren’s “ability to understand vibrant color with an old-school, hand-made approach was extremely rewarding.”

For his part, Sandgren was thrilled to work on a movie musical. “I’d never thought of shooting a Hollywood musical, but I loved ‘Whiplash,’ and Damien’s a great storyteller,” he says. “I had to step out of my comfort zone and take a risk with the unfamiliar, which is always very exciting. Celebrating diversity within the arts is fantastic, and Los Angeles is this wonderful city that brings people together from all over the world to make films.

Aussie Fraser is delighted about his country’s recent cinematic dominance. “I’m very proud of my colleagues, and I love seeing Australian film on the world stage. We tend to have that pluckiness to get where we need to get, and working on ‘Lion’ was a tremendous experience.”

Prieto is thrilled by the Academy’s sense of inclusion. “I think it’s very significant that the Academy have recognized the contributions that people from different cultures bring to cinema,” he says. “Being an immigrant from Mexico, it’s especially gratifying that AMPAS members have shown appreciation for the photography of the nominated films, regardless of race or country of origin of the cinematographers.”

And Wright shared nothing but praise for Gibson, saying: “Working with Mel was fabulous. He’s a masterful storyteller, and he’s very aware of the power that a dynamic sound can bring to a film, and the way it can shape a scene for the better. He gave us an incredible opportunity on ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ to place the audience within the battle of Okinawa.”

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