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“Here Are the Nominees for Best Foreign Language Film”

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

Written by Areeb Zuaiter for TOPLINE and originally published March 2019.

Feb. 24, 2019 5:00 PM PST, in Dolby Theater Hollywood, and to the beat of Queen’s classic, “We Will Rock You”, a red curtain rolls up into an asymmetrical, soft, sweeping portal wrapping into the world celebrated audience and revealing a grandiose crystal setting of Hollywood’s biggest night of the year. Adam Lambert’s vocals rocking the ceremony’s host-less stage and the celebrity crowd enthusiastically clapping on the famous beat of the song’s

bar. It is indeed the most anticipated show in the industry of film and beyond. Millions across the globe are watching. Millions across the globe are hooked; largely because they are waiting for the results that are honoring the various categories of films they have watched throughout the year and in every part of the world. Although Hollywood-specific, those millions are more precisely longing to see the country they care for getting crowned with the honor of receiving the golden plated statuette, known as the Oscar, in the foreign language film category. Such an honor is no longer reserved to the filmmaker behind the film, or to the crew who worked on it. But it has become a tribute to the country that gave its nationality to the film. The awarded film, along with the four other nominated pictures in this category are to be celebrated across the planet.

The “Foreign Language Films” category has first entered The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1945, i.e. 15 years past the broadcast of the first Academy Awards ceremony. However, industries of various countries have officially started being invited to annually apply since 1956, with the creation of a competitive Academy Award of Merit named the Best Foreign Language Film Award. And since then, at least one Academy Award would go to a Foreign Language Film annually in each of the ceremonies. Designing a criterion for the category, The Academy defines a foreign language film as “a feature-length motion picture (above 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track”.

It is often that the audience are taken by the allure of the moment and the glamour of the event that they pay little thought to the cumbersome process behind the most cosmopolitan category of the ceremony. For a foreign language film to make its way to the Academy Award competition, it has to go through a multi-layered process. Each country is invited to submit what it considers its best film. The selection is made by an approved organization, jury or committee. In the case of Jordan, the Royal Film Commission is the official submitting organization; it nominates a selection committee to choose among the films submitted by various producers. Worth noting, that the motion picture must have been released in the country submitting it and showcased for at least seven consecutive days. In addition, “the submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country.”

Only one eligible film – narrative or documentary or animated - gets presented to the Academy as the official submission of that given country. After viewing the eligible submissions, the Phase I Foreign Language Film Award Committee votes by secret ballot and choses the best 6 foreign films. The Academy’s Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee votes for additional three. The outcome is a shortlist of nine foreign language films. The film that has made its way towards the Academy’s shortlist, provides additional prints or Digital Cinema Packages to the Academy to facilitate voting screenings. A secret ballot voting by the Phase II Foreign Language Film Award Committee determines the category’s five nominees. The winning film/country is decided via a final voting that is restricted to active and life Academy members who have viewed the five nominees. The winner is honored by being granted the eminent Oscar statuette and a 45-second-restricted Oscar speech. Such accolades are usually accepted by the director on behalf of the country, and the picture’s creative talents. The country is the one that is credited as the nominee and the director’s name is listed on the statuette plaque after the country’s name and film’s title.

As the globally long-anticipated moment of the ceremony approached on the evening of 24th of February, Angela Bassett and Javier Bardem emerge from the Crystal Cloud themed stage of the multifaceted theater.

“There are no borders or walls that can restrain ingenuity and talent. In any

region of any country of any continent, there are always great stories that

move us. And tonight, we celebrate the excellence and importance of the

cultures and languages of different countries,” Bardem articulates in his

own “foreign” Spanish words. “Members of the movie Academy come from

across the globe. So it is truly fitting that, this year, foreign language films

are not just recognized in its category, but in almost every category,” adds

Angela Bassett. “Here are the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film…”

This was not the first time foreign language films are recognized in nominations outside their own category. There are multiple instances when the foreign language film received an award for its excellency in a specific department. This year, “Roma” rose to sit, alongside “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”, at the pinnacle of foreign language films to receive the largest number of Awards Nominations. Both movies earned 10 Oscar nominations each; the highest number of nominations that was ever garnered in the category.

In 1969, “Z” enters the Academy Awards Foreign Film nomination as an Algerian Film. However, the film was directed by Greek-French Costa-Gavras. The film spoke French, Russian and English and narrated a Greek story. So if the film is to be considered Algerian despite its non-Arab components, “Z” would make the first “Arab” film to ever enter the competition and the only one to ever win it. The second on the list of Arab Academy-nominated films would be 1983’s “Le Bal”. Yet the film is a Franco-Algerian-Italian production directed by the Italian Ettore Scola that tells a 50-year story of French society through a ballroom in France.

With the exception of “Z” and “Le Bal”, and only if considered Algerian films, Arab films have not entered the arena of the Academy’s Foreign Language Film until the Academy’s 68th round in 1995 with Rachid Bouchareb’s “Dust of Life”. Yet, the first time Arabic was heard at a nomination in the category was in 2005, with Hany Abu Assad’s “Paradise Now”. After that specific year, the Arab nominations in the category had significantly grown. Compared to being nominated in an average of once every 10 years, Arabic speaking films are now being recognized every two to four years. The most Arab country badged with Oscar candidacies is Algeria with five nominations, then comes Palestine and Lebanon, each with two nominations. The Algerian Bouchareb breaks the record with three nominations, while the Palestinian Abu Assad follows by two. This year, Lebanon’s Capernaum marks a precedent as its director, Nadine Labaki, becomes recognized as the first Arab female director to make her way to the Academy.

And as the highlight of the night, the Best Picture, is announced. Its full team gather on stage rejoicing. delivering their lines, and circulating their thank-you notes, while a cheerful triumphant music gradually takes over. Applause overrides. It’s a wrap. A bird’s eye view travels atop the stage and away from the celebrities and stars. The viewers are left to enjoy another year of films to come and guesses to take for the upcoming 92nd round.

[TOPLINE, Issue 3, March 2019]

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