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Oscars Race: India Picks Rotterdam Winner ‘Pebbles’ as International Feature Candidate

"Pebbles"
Courtesy International Film Festival Rotterdam

The Film Federation of India’s Oscar selection committee has selected debutant PS Vinothraj’s Tamil-language “Koozhangal” (Pebbles) as the country’s official entry in the International Feature Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Set in rural Tamil Nadu, South India, the film follows a young boy who is dragged between villages by his abusive alcoholic father to bring his mother back home.

The film’s Variety review lauds it for having “all the focus and penetration of a perfectly constructed short story” and for its “larger, unforced statement about toxic patriarchy, limited resources, and the silent, enduring place of women as enablers of life.”

The film had its world premiere at Rotterdam earlier this year, where it won the festival’s top honor, the Tiger Award. It has also won awards at Yerevan and Transilvania and is nominated at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. It is produced by Rowdy Pictures, an outfit run by popular South Indian actor Nayanthara and filmmaker Vignesh Shivan.

India has been sending entries to the Oscars since 1957 and has been nominated thrice – for “Mother India” in 1958, “Salaam Bombay!” in 1989 and “Lagaan” in 2002. The country has yet to win.

PALESTINE

“The Stranger,” a first feature by writer-director Ameer Fakher Eldin about a doctor going through an existential crisis in the occupied Golan Heights, has been selected as Palestine’s official entry in the International Feature Film category at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Italy’s Intramovies has announced that it is taking world rights to the picture shot on location which recently launched from the Venice Film Festival’s independently run Venice Days section where it won the Edipo Re Award.

“The Stranger” stars Palestine’s Ashraf Barhoum (“The Kingdom,” “Paradise Now”) playing an unlicensed doctor whose life takes an unlucky turn when he rescues a wounded man upon his return from the war in Syria.

Producers are Palestine’s Fresco Films (Tony and Jiries Copti) and Germany’s Red Balloon Film (Dorothe Beinemeier). The film is co-produced by Metafora Production (Qatar) and executive producers are Gwen G. Wynne and Carol Ann Shine. 

“The Stranger” is intended to be the first installment of a trilogy directed by Ameer Fakher Eldin. His second feature with the provisional title “Nothing of Nothing Remains” is being developed by Red Balloon. Intramovies is discussing the possibility of a continued collaboration with the director’s team. 

HONG KONG

Hong Kong has selected “Zero to Hero,” a sports and family drama film as its contender in the Academy Awards’ best international feature category. The decision was announced Friday by the territory’s Motion Picture Industry Association.

Directed by Jimmy Wan Chi-man, the film is a biopic of the Paralympic athlete So Wa-wai who was born with cerebral palsy but went on to win 12 medals between 1996 and 2012, and break world records.

With production handled by One Cool Films, the film premiered at the Udine festival of Asian films and was released commercially in Hong Kong on August 12. Leading Hong Kong actor Sandra Ng, who plays the pivotal role of So’s mother, is credited as one of the film’s producers.

Still on release in the city, “Zero” is the highest-grossing local film this year with a cumulative box office to Oct. 21, 2021, of HK$27.5 million ($3.53 million).

IRAN

Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” has been selected by Iran to represent the country at the upcoming Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category.

The widely expected decision by the Iranian Film Board was announced on Thursday by the Farabi Cinema Foundation, which is the country’s international film body.

Farhadi has previously won two international Oscars for, respectively, “A Separation” in 2011 and “The Salesman” in 2016,  the former of which was also nominated for original screenplay.

“A Hero,” which launched positively in July from the Cannes Film Festival where it tied for the Grand Prix, the fest’s runner-up prize, is the story of Rahim (Amir Jadidi), who is in prison for a debt that he was unable to pay. During a two-day leave, an act of kindness provides him with an opportunity to convince his creditor to withdraw the complaint so he can go free, but not everything goes as planned.

It will be released by Amazon in the U.S.

MEXICO

Tatiana Huezo’s “Prayers for the Stolen” (“Noche de Fuego”) has been selected by Mexico’s Oscar committee to represent the country in the international feature film race.

The drama, which follows three girls as they come of age in a village rampant with human trafficking and the drug trade, competed in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section and was awarded a special mention. “Prayers for the Stolen” also took home the best Latin American film award at San Sebastian. The film stars Mayra Batalla, Norma Pablo and Olivia Lagunas and was produced by Nicolás Célis and Jim Stark. “Prayers for the Stolen” has been acquired by Netflix.

FRANCE

Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or Winning “Titane” has been selected by France’s Oscar committee to represent the country in the international feature film race.

“Titane” recently won the people’s choice award at Toronto, where is played in the Midnight Madness section.
This year’s French Oscar committee includes Julie Delpy; Zeller; producers Iris Knobloch and Alain Goldman, whose credits include the Oscar-winning film “La Vie En Rose”; Emilie Georges, the Oscar-winning producer of “Call Me by Your Name” and founder of Memento International; and Grégory Chambet, co-founder of the sales company WTFilms. The committee also has three permanent members: Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux; UniFrance president Serge Toubiana; and Elisabeth Tanner, talent agent and representative of the Cesar Academy.

ICELAND

Valdimar Jóhannsson’s “Lamb” has been selected by Iceland’s Oscar committee to represent the country in the international feature film race.

The body horror film, which was recently released domestically by Neon across 562 screens, was chosen over Audrey Diwan’s “Happening,” winner of Venice’s Golden Lion, and Cedric Jimenez’s “The Stronghold.” “Lamb” is Jóhannsson’s debut feature film, and he co-wrote the screenplay with Icelandic poet Sjón. The film follows a childless couple in rural Iceland who make an alarming discovery one day in their sheep barn.

AUSTRIA

Austria has picked director Sebastian Meise’s drama “Great Freedom” as its official submission for Best International Feature Film Oscars race.

The decision was announced by Austrian Films and the Film and Music Austria industry association of the Austrian Economic Chambers, and confirmed by the film’s distributor MUBI.

The somber drama world premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, where it won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize, before going on to win the award for best feature at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Set in Germany after World War II, it tells the story of Hans, a man repeatedly sent to prison over multiple decades for his homosexuality. With each return, he grows ever-closer with his cellmate Viktor, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence, and what begins as revulsion blossoms over time to something far more tender.

The film stars Franz Rogowski (“Victoria,” “Undine,” “Transit,” “A Hidden Life”) and Silver Bear winner Georg Friedrich (“Helle Nächte,” “The Piano Teacher”) and was produced by Sabine Moser, Oliver Neumann, and Benny Drechsel. Meise co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Reider.

“Great Freedoms” also opened Filmfest Hamburg in late September and had its U.K. premiere at the BFI London Film Festival in early October. It film will continue to screen at festivals globally this fall and winter, including Chicago International Film Festival, Montclair Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival, Denver Film Festival, and others, before releasing theatrically in the U.S. and U.K. on March 4, 2022.

JAPAN

Japan has selected Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s “Drive My Car” as its contender for the Academy Awards’ best international film category.

The selection was made by the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (Eiren). The news was first reported by Japan’s Sankei News organization and confirmed by the film’s local distributor Bitters End.

The three-hour film debuted in competition at the Cannes film festival in July, where it won a handful of prizes including the best screenplay award for Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe’s adaptation of Murakami Haruki short story. It tells the tale of a widower director and his stoical female chauffeur as they drive to Hiroshima.

It is now a star attraction on the fall festival circuit, with appearances at Toronto, San Sebastian, New York, Busan, London, Sydney and the New Zealand festivals. International sales are handled by Germany’s The Match Factory. Japanese theatrical distribution began in August.

For nearly two decades, a group of slightly more established Japanese directors– Kore-eda Hirokazu, Kawase Naomi, Kurosawa Kiyoshi and Kitano Takeshi – collectively referred to as the “4K” directors have garnered the lion’s share of major festival invitations and prizes, leaving a younger generation of Japanese filmmakers in relative obscurity internationally. With his two films this year “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” debuted in Berlin) and huge international acclaim for “Drive My Car” Hamaguchi has decisively broken through the “4K” barrier.

Japan has been submitting Oscar contenders since the beginning of the foreign-language category. A dozen Japanese films have gone on to earn nominations, and one, “Departures” won the Oscar in 2008.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Sports biopic “Zatopek” has been selected to represent the Czech Republic. The film is directed by David Ondricek and had its world premiere at this year’s 55th Karlovy Vary International Festival. The selection was announced by the Czech Film and Television Academy, which said that it had weighed up 13 eligible fiction, documentary, and animated films. Nicknamed the Czech Locomotive, the real life Emil Zatopek was one of the most famous long distance runners of all time. He won the 5,000 metre, 10,000 metre races and the marathon at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. The achievement has never been repeated.

TAIWAN

Taiwan has selected Chung Mong-hong’s pandemic-set drama “The Falls” as its contender in the international feature film race at the 94th Academy Awards. It is the third time that a film by Chung has represented Taiwan and the second time in succession.

In the 2019—20 race Taiwan selected Chung’s family drama “A Sun,” which was retained on the Oscars shortlist, but ultimately did not receive a nomination.

“The Falls” premiered in the Horizons section at last month’s Venice Film Festival followed by an appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival. In recent days, it received 11 nominations at the 58th Golden Horse Awards, including best feature film and two best actress nominations for its female leads.

Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Falls,” starring Gingle Wang (“Detention”) and Alyssa Chia (“The World Between Us”), depicts how an unexpected home quarantine can take a strained relationship between a mother and a daughter on a different direction.

The Oscar shortlist will be announced on Dec. 21.

HUNGARY

Péter Bergendy’s period horror film “Post Mortem” has been selected to represent Hungary in the international feature film race of the 94th Academy Awards. The film tells the supernatural story of a post-mortem photographer and a young girl confronting ghosts in a haunted village after World War I.

The decision to select the film was made by the Hungarian Oscar Committee, whose members included Csaba Káel, the government commissioner for the development of the Hungarian motion picture industry, and chairman of the National Film Institute, director Csaba Bereczki, director Kristóf Deák, screenwriter Tibor Fonyódi, film distribution expert András Kálmán, producer Ákos Pesti and Emil Novák, a cinematographer.

“Post Mortem” premiered at the Warsaw and Sitges film festivals last year, and went on to screen at more than 20 genre festivals. The film picked up prizes at the Trieste, Fantasporto, Sombra and Parma genre festivals, and was the winner of this year’s Hungarian Motion Picture Awards for cinematography, editing, production design and make-up.

The film’s producers are Tamás Lajos and Ábel Köves of Szupermodern Stúdió. The story was by Bergendy and Gábor Hellebrandt, and the screenplay was written by Piros Zánkay.

International sales are handled by NFI World Sales, which has scored deals for major territories in Europe, including France, Italy, Germany and Poland, South Korea, Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Hong Kong, for India and Latin America. In North America, Black Mandala acquired distribution rights. — Leo Barraclough.

SOMALIA

On Tuesday, “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” Khadar Ahmed’s drama which opened at Cannes’ Critics Week, was chosen as the first official submission from Somalia at the Oscars.

The critically acclaimed movie was unanimously selected by Somalia’s first Oscar selection committee, which was created this year with six artists working in different entertainment fields.

The film, directed by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, was inspired by a personal tragedy that happened in the filmmaker’s family 10 years ago in Helsinki, and follows a gravedigger (Omar Abdi) and family man living in the outskirts of Djibouti city who sets off to save his wife who needs expensive surgery. It was produced by Misha Jaari, Mark Lwoff and Risto Nikkilä at Helsinki-based Bufo.

“The Gravedigger’s Wife” will screen at the BFI London Film Festival in October ahead of its U.S. premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival. The film will then have its African premiere at the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

The film will be released in Finland and Norway on Nov. 12, and in France in 2022 with Urban Distribution handling. Orange Studio is handling international sales on “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” which played at Toronto following Cannes and won the Amplify Voices Award. — Patrick Frater

SOUTH KOREA

On Tuesday, South Korea selected action drama “Escape From Mogadishu” as its contender.

Directed by Ryoo Seung-wan, “Escape From Mogadishu” is based on real events in the 1990s when normally antagonistic diplomats from North and South Korea joined forces to escape civil war in Somalia.

The film has been one of the few bright spots for local movies this year at a depressed and battered Korean box office. It is the year’s highest-grossing film, local or international, with a gross of $28.9 million.

The Korean Film Council, which announced the selection, said that it had picked “Mogadishu” from a shortlist of six. Last year Korean film “Parasite” won the international feature category and a total haul of four Oscars, including best picture. — Patrick Frater

SPAIN

Also on Tuesday, Spain picked Javier Bardem-starring “The Good Boss” as its hopeful in the Oscars category.

Directed by Fernando León de Aranoa, “The Good Boss” (aka “El Buen Patron”) is the story of an industrial scales manufacturer who races to try to resolve his workers’ problems ahead of a factory visit by an awards committee.

It recently enjoyed its world premiere at the San Sebastian Film Festival and followed that with an appearance at the Zurich festival last week. It will enjoy its commercial debut later this month in Spain (Oct. 15). Its selection was a major surprise in some quarters, as Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers” which debuted last month as the opening title of the Venice Film Festival, had been the overwhelming favorite. — John Hopewell

CANADA

On Monday, Canada announced that “Drunken Birds” [a.k.a. “Les Oiseaux Ivres], by director and co-writer Ivan Grbovic and co-writer Sara Mishara, will be its flagbearer.

The film premiered last month in the Platform section of the Toronto Film Festival. Telefilm Canada, which announced the selection, said that “Birds” was the Canadian film “with the best chance of being nominated for this prestigious award.”

“It is a film with which we wanted to celebrate the power of film, while taking the audience on a journey through the beauty, absurdity and injustice of our lives today. We would like to share this honor with the rest of the film team, but also with the seasonal workers who leave their families every year to better their lives,” said Grbovic on behalf of himself and Mishara. — Patrick Frater

KYRGYZSTAN

“Shambala,” written and directed by Artykpai Suyundukov, was recently selected as Kyrgyzstan’s entry. The film is a portrait of a boy living with his family in a protected mountain forest, whose childhood world of myths and legends begins to clash with the harsh realities of the adult world.

The film is based on Chingiz Aitmatov’s novella “The White Ship,” and was developed by Suyundukov over the course of 40 years. It was produced by National Film Studio Kyrgyzfilm in collaboration with Aitysh Film.

It had its premiere at the Shanghai Film Festival. It won the best director award at the Kolkata Film Festival and best film of the CIS and Baltics prize at the Nika Awards in Russia. — Leo Barraclough.

IRELAND

As previously reported, Seán Breathnach’s “Shelter” was chosen by the Irish Film and Television Academy as Ireland’s competitor in the race for the Oscar for International Feature Film.

“Shelter,” titled “Foscadh” in Irish, follows the story of John Cunliffe, an overprotected recluse who must learn to navigate the world at the age of 28 after his parents die. Friendless and naive, Cunliffe, played by Dónall Ó Héalai (“Arracht”), must also learn to deal with trust and vengeance as he finds his mountain land inheritance is impeding a profitable wind-farm development.

Breathnach wrote and directed the feature, which is based on Donal Ryan’s novel “The Thing About December.” Fionnuala Flaherty (“An Klondike”) and Cillian O’Gairbhí (“Blood”) also star.

“Shelter” was produced by Paddy Hayes (“Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody”) via his company Magamedia. The Yellow Affair is handling international sales.

The film won the Best First Film award at the Galway Film Fleadh. — K.J. Yossman

GERMANY

Maria Schrader’s screwball romantic comedy “I’m Your Man” (“Ich Bin Dein Mensch”) was selected as Germany’s Oscar contender.

The film’s premise is that of a scientist who, in order to obtain research funds, agrees to live for three weeks with a humanoid robot specifically engineered for her happiness.

The film had its world premiere earlier this year at the Berlinale, where star Maren Eggert won the Silver Bear for her performance.

Its German theatrical release in July, handled by Majestic Filmverleih, saw it achieve more than 100,000 ticket sales. The film had its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. It has been licensed to more than 60 countries. Its U.S. release through Bleecker Street kicks off on Friday.

At the German Film Prizes, “I’m Your Man” was nominated in five categories: film, directing, screenplay (Schrader and Jan Schomburg), actress (Eggert) and actor (Dan Stevens). — Patrick Frater

Submissions for the 2021-22 Oscars

Austria: “Great Freedoms” dir. Sebastian Meise

Cambodia: “White Building” dir. Kavich Neang.

Canada: “Drunken Birds” dir. Ivan Grbovic

Czech Republic: “Zatopek” dir. David Ondricek

Ecuador: “Submersible” dir. Alfredo Leon Leon

Georgia: “Brighton 4th” dir. Levan Koguashvili

Germany: “I’m Your Man” dir. Maria Schrader

Hong Kong: “Zero to Hero” dir. Wan Chi-man

Hungary: “Post Mortem” dir. Péter Bergendy

Iceland: “Lamb” dir Valdimar Jóhannsson

India: “Pebbles” dir PS Vinothraj

Iran: “A Hero” dir. Asghar Farhadi

Ireland: “Shelter” dir. Seán Breathnach

Japan: “Drive My Car” dir. Hamguchi Ryusuke

Kosovo: “Hive” dir. Blerta Basholli

Kyrgyzstan: “Shambala,” dir. Artykpai Suyundukov

Morocco: “Casablanca Beats” dir. Nabil Ayouch

Mexico: “Prayers for the Stolen” dir. Tatiana Huezo

Palestine: “The Stranger” dir. Ameer Fakher Eldin

Poland: “Leave No Traces” dir. Jan P. Matuszynski

Serbia: “Oasis” dir. Ivan Ikic

South Korea: “Escape From Mogadishu” dir. Ryoo Seung-wan.

Spain: “The Good Boss” dir. Fernando de Leon Aranoa.

Sweden: “Tigers” dir. Ronnie Sandahl

Switzerland: “Olga” dir. Elie Grappe

Taiwan: “The Falls” dir. Chung Mong-hong