The rules that govern Oscar nominations for best foreign film have come under fire after three critically acclaimed works from Britain, Ireland and Palestine were declared ineligible by the Los Angeles-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
The Academy has been accused of everything from playing politics to not understanding the cross-cultural shifts that have taken place in the world of films.
First the British film The Warrior, a Japanese fable set in the Indian province of Rajastan made by a London-born second-generation Indian filmmaker and nominated for the Best Foreign Language film category, was disqualified on the grounds that the Hindi language - which accounts for 6 minutes of dialogue - was not indigenous to Britain.
Then the producers of the film Divine Intervention, by Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, were told by a senior Academy official that it could not be accepted in the foreign-language category because Palestine is not recognized as a country by the United Nations. That was followed by this week’s decision to reject the Irish film Bloody Sunday, which chronicles a historic confrontation between civil-rights marchers in Ireland and the British army that spiralled into a massacre, on the grounds it had been aired on public television before being nominated, a violation of Academy rules.
The producers aired the film for a single television viewing across Britain and Ireland last January, 10 days before the anniversary of the notorious event.
“We don’t make films for awards and we certainly don’t regret our decision to go for a bold and unusual release strategically for the film, in view of the special historic circumstances of the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday,” said Bloody Sunday producer Mark Redhead.
The show’s U.S. distributor tried to argue that the Academy made an exception in the past when it allowed Richard III to be nominated in 1956 after it was aired on television to herald the arrival of colour broadcasts. That film starred Sir Lawrence Olivier.
“We just believe there should be an exception to every rule,” said David Dinerstein, co-president of Paramount Classics.
While Bloody Sunday may have been declared ineligible on a technicality, the Academy’s reasoning for The Warrior and Divine Intervention is more controversial.
When The Warrior, written and directed by Asif Kapadia, was rejected, the decision drew howls of outrage because its replacement was a Welsh film, Eldra.
Welsh is spoken by an estimated 500,000 people.
At least three times that number are reported to speak Hindi in Britain.
“The post-production was British. The money was British. Film Four (its financier) was British. The department of culture gave it a certificate of British nationality,” said the film’s French producer Bertrand Faivre.
“People have been migrating around the world for some time now,” he added sarcastically.
Favire said The Warrior, which just happens to use India as a locale, is an essentially British interpretation of a Japanese Samurai tale, a classic example of second-generation Britons telling global stories.
Things also got a little murky when Divine Intervention was found to be ineligible, especially because the Academy has been accepting films from Taiwan and Hong Kong for years, despite the fact that they are not recognized as countries by the United Nations.
It led the electronicIntifida.net, a Chicago-based online publication that publishes news about Palestine, to accuse the Academy of using a double standard to keep Palestine out of the Oscars.
“That is in fact an anomaly,” admitted John Pavlik, spokesperson for the Academy.
He said he could explain why Taiwan and Hong Kong had been allowed to submit films while Palestine wasn’t.
However, Pavlik went on to say that Academy sticks by its position.
“We have to have rules. If we don’t abide by the rules we’ll have anarchy.”