Cannes is the birthplace of any number of future Oscar nominees for Best International Feature, such as last year’s Grand Prix winner ‘Close’ or winners such as 2021’s ‘Drive My Car’ competition. This year’s possibilities include British director Jonathan Glazer’s enthusiastically received German-language ‘The Zone of Interest’; Un Certain Regard’s Argentinian film “The Delinquents,” a three-hour existential heist film reprized from Magnolia; or the Japanese “Monster”, the latest film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose “Shoplifters” obtained both the Palme d’Or and an Oscar nomination. However, before they can be nominated, they have to be introduced and that, as members of the Academy well know, is the problem.
The demand for reform boils down to this: too often the decision on Oscar nominations belongs to the decision makers rather than the directors, and this can lead to some… frustrating choices. Last year India did not submit “RRR” and Italy refused to select well reviewed The Cannes film “The Eight Mountains”, directed on location in Italy by the Belgian team of Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch. “If I could change (the Oscars), it would be this idea to have the most open category, so any film could apply,” van Groeningen told IndieWire. “Then it would be a process of natural selection.”
Countries choose their Oscar picks in different ways. Some appoint small committees; some have a National Academy. In Brazil, Iran and Russia, the committee is dominated by their respective governments; even in a democratic country like France, the selection process is dominated by the powerful in industry. Cannes director Thierry Fremaux has been on the committee for years and has often been accused of favoring Cannes stocks.
This year, among the myriad of Academy rule changes, was a new rule for Best International Feature that requires each country’s Oscar submission selection committee to be 50 percent ” artists and / or craftsmen of the field of cinema”. This doesn’t exactly qualify as a sweeping reform: prior to its codification as a rule, a 50% “guideline” (which was not publicly available) had been in place for years. However, to the extent that countries around the world care about the Oscars, most are likely to comply.
Even so, the new rule does little to address how AMPAS should deal with exiled and banned filmmakers, or otherwise orphaned films that have no home. The International Feature Executive Committee co-chairs Danish Oscar-winner Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”) and MoMa’s Chief Film Curator Rajendra Roy, who have done extensive research into the processes behind international selections for the Oscars , have yet to figure out a solution to these problems. So they started with a smaller pitch.
“The thing that was clear to both of us was that there was a real need for more transparency for the candidate countries,” Roy said by telephone. “Obviously there is a need for transparency… there still seemed to be confusion between countries on how to present. There just wasn’t a lot of consistency, but the thing we needed to be true was that the people who make movies, and everyone in whatever form that takes, are a part of at least 50 percent of that process.
Every year, questions abound to the Academy from the selection committees about the rules of the international feature film awards, the committee’s guidelines and criteria, and the submission process. When Bhutan first tried to submit, it did not have an approved official selection committee. The country needed help from the Academy to set up a selection committee and submit a film. Finally, Bhutan got a surprise nomination for Pawo Choyning Dorji’s ‘Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom’.
Attempts to reform the Academy’s foreign language selection process have included the 2006 change whereby a submitted film was no longer required to be in the language of its home country. This allowed Denmark, for example, to present the Profile Pictures production “Holy Spider” last year; the film was shot in Persian in Jordan. After the “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” Palme d’Or winner was rejected for a nomination in 2008, the Academy formed a foreign committee that weighs in on the final selection. That committee was dropped in 2021, but the Academy expanded the shortlist to 15 and added online viewing to a larger chunk of global voters.
To handle international submissions, in April 2022 the Academy hired former Sundance programmer Dilcia Barrera as the Academy’s new senior vice president of member relations, global outreach, and administration. She works closely with Meredith Shea, a former AMPAS member and awards executive who returned to the Academy last April as chief membership, impact and industry officer. “It was an important step for the Academy to find the right staff person to fill the role, someone to focus on internationalism,” said Roy.
Or to put it another way: With Barrera, AMPAS now has someone in charge of ensuring that the 50% rule-turned-rule takes effect. Roy said the academy has long asked countries to submit entries to selection committees, but the rule the more one performer gives more weight. “It makes a difference,” Roy said.
If Roy has his druthers, the next guideline that could become rule will ask countries to impose term limits on their selection committees, much like the three-year AMPAS board. (The Academy suggests six-year cycles separated by two-year breaks.) Filmmakers have expressed frustration, Roy said, that there’s often no room for their inclusion.
A step at a time. Clearly, the Academy has no plans to do away with the basic one-film-per-country model any time soon. For now, Roy said, it’s about finding “ways to make it work better.”