Can Mikhail Red’s Birdshot be the first Oscar nominee from the Philippines?
Sorry, it’s not just about the film’s quality
Sep 27, 2017
The Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) chose Mikhail Red’s Birdshot as the Philippines’ official entry for 2018 Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film category. The film is a coming-of-age film about Maya (Mary Joy Apostol) who trespassed a bird sanctuary and killed a Philippine Eagle for food. Policemen Domingo (Arnold Reyes) and Mendoza (John Arcilla) went on the lookout for the culprit. Maya’s life took difficult turns, opening her eyes to the cruel reality of this world. Admittedly, I felt that the film started out too slow, but it was able to keep up with the pace the narrative requires.
According to Variety, Birdshot almost tied with Baby Ruth Villarama’s Sunday Beauty Queen. Oscar selection committee chair Jose N. Carreon had to cast a deciding vote and Birdshot arrived as the official entry.
Before its submission, the film already made rounds in various international film festivals including Goteburg Film Festival and Tokyo International Film Festival, where it bagged the Best Picture in the Asian Future category. In the Philippines, Birdshot opened the 13th Cinemalaya Film Festival and was part of the roster for Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. However, the film will undertake a more difficult path for the Academy.
Since the inception of the Best Foreign Language Film category in 1956 (Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan was our first entry), no Filipino film was ever nominated for the category. When Lav Diaz’s Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan was submitted in 2015, Diaz described the probability of a nomination as “suntok sa buwan.”
Every year, the Academy receives more than 80 contenders for the category. According to entertainment and award predictions website Gold Derby, the entries go through a rigid selection process. Over a two-month period, the selection committee will rate every film. Six of it will be shortlisted, while an additional three will be chosen by the executive committee. “They will be chosen by a fixed number of Academy voters, and not the whole body,” producer Moira Lang told Inquirer. From nine, a selected number of the committee will choose the five nominees. Then, the entire Academy votes for the winner.
Unfortunately, that’s not the lone source of complication.
The nomination does not only rely on the film’s quality, but other factors must be taken to account as well. Brillante Mendoza, whose film Ma’ Rosa was submitted in 2016, said that a fervent campaign and promotion must be done for a possibility of nomination. “It was paid to one publicity team in America, but it was not enough because the campaign to promote the film in the Oscars is a long one,” Mendoza told Inquirer. Although the Film Development Council of the Philippines provided P1 million for Ma’ Rosa’s campaign, the filmmaker said that at least P5 million is needed for a successful campaign. In the end, the film, despite its participation at Cannes Film Festival, was only able to reach the first stage of the nomination process.
“This is the Miss Universe for films, with every participating country having its own way of campaigning and promoting its film to be shortlisted,” Mendoza added that he had to reach out to some 5,000 Academy members.
We have been producing great films every year that receive critical acclaim and awards from international film festivals. Could this mean that the issue is in our selection process?
“Every year, we have really strong films that can compete, if we are only talking about competition,” Diaz told Inquirer. “Sadly, in our case, we have an archaic and unprogressive selection process. So shameful, naïve and utterly feudal. We have wasted so many opportunities in the past.”
He also added that we could submit more than one film to raise the probability of nomination.
In July, Mendoza and Diaz are two of the 774 new members of the Academy. Although Diaz believes that the success of a Filipino film at the Academy still lies in our selection process, “it is an acknowledgment that Philippine cinema and Southeast Asian filmmaking are finally a part of the Academy’s once-exclusive forum.”
So can Red’s Birdshot be our first Academy nominee?
Taking those previous experiences into account, the film will have a really difficult time to get a nomination—it’s not impossible, though. However, I feel like the obligation does not simply rely on the filmmakers. The Filipino audiences are stakeholders as well. Hoping for that coveted golden statue is pretty useless if we ourselves do not support Birdshot—or any other Filipino film at that—in the local landscape. Before we aspire for the support of foreign audiences, watch the film and encourage others to do so, too. And perhaps the nomination will come if we do that.
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