Is the Best Foreign Language Oscar outdated in this era of multinational productions? The current setup is certainly a mess and needs redefining or revamping. As it stands for a film to be eligible it has to be predominately not in the English language, so far so good, but then it gets complicated. Rather than the academy picking the best five films of the year not in the English language, each country nominates one film as their selection. This is the broken down into a long list, then a shortlist before five nominations are selected. Unlike other categories, to be eligible a movie does not have to be screened in America during the prescribed dates. Instead it has to be screened in its own country. The downside to this is that if the film is subsequently screened in America it will not be eligible for Oscar contention (if it meets the criteria it is eligible in all categories in the year it is submitted as a foreign film). There is also a difference in the voting process. “Screeners” are not used, instead the four nominated films are screened in a cinema (with English subtitles, never dubbed) and any academy member wishing to vote must attend. This reduces the chances of the people voting without seeing the films as most likely happens in other categories.
As of 2006 the films no longer have to be in the official language of the submitting country. This is goods thing in one respect as under the old system for example a Welsh film in the Welsh language or and Australian film in Aboriginal language would have been ineligible as they are both from countries where the official language is English. It does however create a loophole that became evident in 2010. The was a certain amount of disagreement and unrest as to if Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon would be submitted as a German or and Austrian film. It was eventually decided it was German and received a nomination as the German entry. A look at the academy website would suggest this has been outlawed: Rule Thirteen (Special Rules for the Foreign Language Film Award), section II (eligibility), subsection E states: “The submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country”. I’m not convinced all this years nominations are that clearly rooted in the submitting nations:
The Canadian movie (War Witch) is set is Sub-Saharan Africa and is in a mixture of French and Lingala.
The Austrian entry (Amour) is made by a German director (Michael Haneke again!) with French, German and Austrian money and has a French cast speaking French and English.
The Danish film (A Royal Affair) is a Danish, Swedish, Czech co production.
The Chilean (No) entry is a co production between Chile, France and the USA.
All this United nations of filmmaking doesn’t have any impact on if the film is any good and doesn’t detract from the fact that the movie is (mostly) not in the English language, but it seems a little silly that a film set in France, in the French language and with a German director is deemed to be Austrian.
There are a few ways around it including replacing the category with one simply for films not in the English language and taking the national ownership away from it. This in itself creates a different problem, without the support of the foreign comities (often the countries own Academy’s) will the Oscars get a suitably diverse spread of movies? There is also the possibility of dropping the category completely, there are films strong enough to make the crossover to the main categories such as Three Colours: Red, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Pan’s Labyrinth, Amelie and this years Amour. There is an argument that without the Best Foreign Language Oscar, more foreign language movies could break through and even win in the major categories.