Sunday, November 18, 2007

Filmmakers Question BFLF Oscar® Rules

It seems as though there is more unrest about the rules concerning the Academy Awards® than I thought. In the previous post, "Animators Decry Animation Rules," I reported and commented on some problems concerning this year's Best Animated Feature category, which many contribute to the rules for the category.

Last month I mentioned some issues, and suggested some possible considerations for changes regarding the Best Foreign Language Film (BFLF) category in my post, "Proposed Rule Change for Foreign Movies," Friday, 12 October 2007. This month, some producers and directors have suggested that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences'® rules in the BFLF category are causing dismay for those in the industry, especially those working abroad, where mutinational productions are becoming more common each year, and many foreign directors want to work in English as well as their native tongue.

Director Ang Lee in Beverly Hills, 2007

First up is Ang Lee's LUST, CAUTION (Se, jie, 2007) the official entry from Taiwan. Because none of the principal cast and principal department heads (cinematographer, production designer, and sound mixer) were from Taiwan, the Academy ruled the movie was in violation of Rule 14 and disqualified it. Apparently, the Taiwanese government was given only a few hours notice to substitute another movie.

Devastated by the loss of their award-winning director (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, Wo hu cang long, Tiawan, 2000; and EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN, Yin shi nan nu, Tiawan, 1994), the officials in Taiwan substituted ISLAND ETUDE (Lian xi qu, 2006) directed by Huai-en Chen, or Chen Huai-En. Chen has mainly worked as a cinematographer. ISLAND ETUDE is his first directorial effort.

Lee, born in Taiwan and educated in the U.S., won a Best Picture Oscar®, and numerous other awards for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (USA, 2005), plus many awards for SENSE AND SENIBILITY, 1995, and THE ICE STORM, 1997, English being the principal language spoken in all.

Another strong picture,THE BAND'S VISIT (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret, Eran Kolirin, director, 2007) officially submitted by Israel, was turned down because there is too much English in the picture. Again see my post of 12 October about the problem of "language" in foreign movies.

Israel substituted BEAUFORT, Joseph Cedar, 2007, the latter's story line being much less interesting than a brass band comprised of members of the Egyptian police force head to Israel to play at the inaugural ceremony of an Arab arts center only to find themselves lost in a foreign city.

THE DIVING BELL and the BUTTERFLY (Le Scaphandre et le papillon, France / USA , 2007), Julian Schnabel's French movie, which won him the directing prize at Cannes and critical acclaim at other festivals, was not submitted by France. They chose to submit the animated PERSEPOLIS, also in French with French crew and actors, Catherine Deneuve among them. Under the Academy's rules a country may submit only one entry, and the country has the right to make that choice. That is, provided the movie follows the rules of submission established by the Academy.

PERSEPOLIS is based on Iranian author Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel. Satrapi also co-wrote the screenplay and co-directed the movie with Frenchman Vincent Paronnaud. It is a poignant coming-of-age story of a precocious and outspoken young Iranian girl that begins during the Islamic Revolution. Deneuve plays the mother, and that alone certifies it as genuinely French. Plus, doesn't every Iranian girl have a French mother as beautiful and Deneuve?

Julian Schnabel, director of DIVING BELL, was an art-world star in the early 1980s. A native of Brooklyn, he still draws and paints, but his other medium now is film. He made his first movie, BASQUIAT (Build a Fort, Set it on Fire, USA) in 1996, about the art world with which he is very familiar.

His second movie, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS in 2000, about the homosexual Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas, established him as a director, and gained an Oscar nomination for the star, Javier Bardem. All of Schnabel's five children appear in the movie. His current wife is Spanish actress Olatz Lopez Garmendia. She has appeared in all of his movies, and executive produced BEFORE NIGHT FALLS.

DIVING BELL is based on the best-selling memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), the former editor in chief of Elle magazine in France. In 1995, Mr. Bauby suffered a stroke that left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome, conscious but paralyzed, with only his left eye remaining functional. He painstakingly composed the memoir by blinking that eye to select letters on a chart.

The movie sounds very much like the award-winning MAR ADENTO (The Sea Inside, Spain, 2004), directed by Alejandro Amenába (right in picture above).
It is based on the true story of a Spanish sailor, Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign for his right to die with dignity after a diving accident left him paralyzed. MAR ADENTO garnered a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Film and a Globe nomination for its star Javier Bardem (left in picture above) as best actor. It swept Spain's Goya Awards, and won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the U.S. For all awards click HERE. I'm sure this year's members of the Academy BFLF committees would recognize the similarities in the MAR ADENTO and DIVING BELL.

In an article for Reuters, "Filmmakers question Oscar's foreign movie rules," 9 October 2007, Stephen Galloway writes that the Afghan tale THE KITE RUNNER, " . . . would never had stood a chance [in the BFLF category because it] features English and Dari dialogue, [and] was made by a Swiss -American Director, Marc Forster with an international crew."

He notes Afghanistan has no submission this year, implying the reason is THE KITE RUNNER did not meet the rules for a BFLF submission, but THE KITE RUNNER is based on a book written by American-educated Afghani writer Khaled Hosseini, who also cowrote the screenplay. Although the main actors and some of the crew are from Afghanistan, it was filmed in China and California, by U.S. production companies (principally MacDonald / Parkes Productions) and is distributed by U.S. distributors (DreamWorks SKG and Paramount Vintage). There is more English spoken than the other foreign languages, and it is officially a U.S. production, not Afghani, and was not eligible for a BFLF submission from Afghanistan from the beginning.

Mr. Galloway also wrote, "In excluding movies like these, the Academy continues to court controversy with foreign-language rules that many deem in need of revision." Amen!

One reason revisions are needed could be that the designation "foreign-language film" is outmoded in our new world-wide economy in which the European Union has dissolved borders within the Union, and the English language is the official diplomatic language, transcending borders around the world. Again, I urge the members of the Board of Governors of the Academy to take a serious look at their rules, especially in the BFLF category, but I would prefer calling the category "Best Foreign Motion Picture".

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