Dec 17, 2019

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has released the shortlist for the newly rebranded International Feature Film Category earlier today, Dec. 17. Of the 91 eligible films, only 10 advanced to the current round. Another round of voting will commence on January 2 to 7, 2020 to determine the official list of nominees. 

Included on the list is South Korea’s Palme d’Or winner “Parasite” directed by Bong Joon Ho. After its successful Cannes Film Festival run, “Parasite” has also been released to international acclaim. “Pain and Glory,” also another Cannes winner by director Pedro Almodovar is also nominated. It stars Antonio Banderas who bagged Cannes’ Best Actor award. 

Hungarian film “Those Who Remained” by Barnabas Toth, Russia’s entry, “Beanpole,” directed by Kantemir Bagalov, and Mati Diop’s “Atlantic” from Senegal are also included in the shortlist. “Beanpole” was highly anticipated to make it onto the Oscar contender list even before awards season. Released in January, it is an exploration of post-traumatic stress disorder in the lives of two female World War II survivors. It brought home the Best Director at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Competition. 

Completing the list is “Truth and Justice” directed by Tanel Toom (Estonia), “The Painted Bird” directed by Vaclav Marhoul (Czech Republic), “Honeyland” directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov (North Macedonia), and “Corpus Christi” directed by Jan Komasa (Poland).

“The Painted Bird” enters the competition after having debuted in Venice Film Festival earlier this year. It is based on the Jerzy Kosinski novel whose main character encounters different people that speak in an invented language called “Slavic Esperanto.” This is another chance for Czech Republic to snag the Oscar trophy as the last time they won it was in 1996 with Jan Sverak’s “Kolya.” 

Poland also continues its successful Oscar streak from last year’s “Cold War” from directed by Pavel Pawlikowski. The country won in 2014 with “Ida” also directed by Pawlikowski.

Before the Oscars, “Honeyland,” a documentary about the last beekeeper in Europe living in isolation in a mountainous region of the Balkans, made its rounds in the Sundance Film Festival as its most awarded film of the year.  

The lineup for the Best International Feature Film category is certainly impressive enough, considering that the Academy faced flak for the rebrand just this year. Previously known as the Best Foreign Language Film Award, the switch was made to diversify and expand on the roster of foreign films that the Oscars recognizes. Aside from that, the Academy also allowed members from all branches to cast a ballot to determine the contenders for the category. This was done to diversify the judging panel, allowing more women, people of color, and a range of ages to judge films made internationally. 

However, the rules did not change—aside from being produced overseas, the dialogue of the film must be in a language other than English. This unchanged rule snubs films from English-speaking countries like Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. This also leaves out films made in foreign countries who have English as their designated national language as evidenced by the Nigerian film, “Lionheart.”

“Lionheart” director and star Genevieve Nnaji explains in a series of tweets that English is one of Nigeria’s languages that connects them to the rest of the world. She also states that Nigeria was colonized by Britain and they had no choice in that matter. 

Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” also suffered from similar circumstances. A story about a Chinese-American family whose dialogue is primarily in Mandarin and whose story is set in China is ineligible for the Best International Feature Film because its creators are American.

The rebranding of the Foreign Language Film award is a missed opportunity on the part of the Academy, who could’ve used it to expand and put a spotlight on more international films. This begs the question of what makes a film foreign? In a highly globalized society, why must an “international” category exist? What does that say about the “othering” of non-American films? These questions are left floating, until at least, the Oscars and the rest of the world decide on what it means for a film to transcend international borders. 

TAGS: academy international films Oscars parasite