Relaxing its new qualifying guidelines for best pTC foreign-language film Oscar consideration, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has accepted three widely acclaimed movies that would not have otherwise made the cut.
Vietnam's "The Scent of Green Papaya," the debut film of director Tran Anh Hung and winner of this year's Camera d'Or at Cannes, will join the Taiwanese entry "The Wedding Banquet" (winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival) and Hong Kong's "Farewell My Concubine" (co-winner of the Palm d'Or prize at Cannes) on the list of 30 films from which the top five nominees will be selected. The academy also disclosed Friday that "Blue," winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, has been rejected since it was shot in French rather than Polish -- the language of the submitting country -- when, in its opinion, the plot didn't call for it.
The academy's guidelines, made public in August, suggest that no foreign-language film is eligible for an Oscar unless three conditions are met. Of the producer, director and writer, two should be from the country submitting the film. That country should be represented in three of the six main creative areas -- art director, cinematographer, costume designer, editor, sound mixer, music composer. Finally, actors from the submitting country should constitute a "significant element" of the film.
"The standards are complex, antiquated and senseless," says Jeff Lipsky, co-founder of October Films, which is distributing "Cronos," a Mexican entry. "Yet the academy won't candidly admit that anything is wrong with anypart of the Oscar process."
Adds Ray Price, vice president of First Look Pictures, the U.S. distributor of "Scent": "I empathize with the academy's effort to discourage films from 'shopping nationalities' -- if country A doesn't submit it, they check out country B. But in trying to define ethnic origin, the criteria may be misleading and create problems entirely different from the intent."
Arthur Hiller, president of the academy, emphasizes that these criteria are not "edicts." Judgments will be made case-by-case by the 10-person executive committee and announced at the end of the month. Eligible films will then be evaluated by the 300 to 400 members of the screening committee to determine the five nominees.
"Foreign films pose particular problems and we're trying to be as flexible as possible," Mr. Hiller says. "We want to recognize the best filmmaking wherever we can find it, but there's no perfect way."
Maybe so, retort the critics. But criteria such as these are out ofsync with the realities of the international marketplace. Co-productions are a fact of life -- particularly in a united Europe and developing countries without the deep pockets to finance films on their own. In fact, Eurimage, a division of the European Economic Community, partially funds movies only if a minimum of three different partners participate.
The academy rules are "unjust and a bit bizarre, a deterrent to free trade," claimed "Scent" producer Christophe Rossignon prior to the acceptance of his film last week. The movie, a homage to Vietnam on the part of the director, who left the country in 1975, started shooting in Vietnam but was forced to move to a French sound stage because of insufficient technical expertise in the local film industry. Because this movie, like "Concubine" and "Wedding Banquet," was shot on location, it was that much harder to satisfy the stipulation that half the creative team should come from the country of origin.