From the Vault: Foreign Language Films

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced the complete submission list for foreign language films for the 85th Annual Academy Awards.

The submission process works as follows: individual countries choose one film that will represent them at the Oscars and submit that film for consideration. The list of submissions will then be narrowed into a shortlist of nine finalists, and the final five nominees will be announced on January 10, 2013.

 The submission list consists of 71 countries, in comparison to 63 countries from last year. Iran, who became the first Middle Eastern country to win an Oscar with last year’s A Separation, will be boycotting the Oscars this year because of the controversial Innocence of Muslims video on YouTube.

There are several surprises and snubs in the complete list of submissions. Canada’s selection of War Witch in favor of Xavier Dolan’s epic transgender tale, Laurence Anyways, means selecting a much more safe film that has better odds of securing a nomination. France also chose the very safe and very Oscar friendly, The Intouchables, over Jacques Audiard’s drama, Rust and Bone. 

The Oscars established the award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1957. In previous years, special honorary awards were handed out to films and filmmakers. Vittorio De Sica won a couple early awards in the late 1940s for his films, Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief.

In 1957 and 1958, Federico Fellini was awarded with the first and second Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, winning consecutively for his films, La Strada and Nights of Cabiria.

The first attempted submission from Armenia came in 1991, after their independence from the USSR, but the film was rejected because Armenia was the country was not an internationally recognized state. 

In 2001, Armenia finally had another film that they submitted for consideration. The film, Symphony of Silence, was directed by Vigen Chaldranian and starred Mikael Pogosyan, but its poor reviews kept the film out of the Oscar race. Variety called the film “heavy-handed” and pointed out that, though “credibly acted, the film lacks both the emotional pull and subtlety needed to create empathy with its protagonist.”

Their next submission came in 2003 with the black comedy, Vodka Lemon, a film I wrote about recently. The film received mostly positive reviews, with Elvis Mitchell’s piece in the New York Times pointing out that the film “has an antic, mordant visual poetry.” In their second round with Armenian cinema, Variety praised the film, writing, “The result is a small but utterly disarming film.” The film didn’t secure a nomination at the Oscars, but became a step in the right direction.

In 2009, Ruben and Vahe Gevorkyants presented their 52-minute documentary short, Autumn of the Magician, for consideration about the life and career of an Italian screenwriter and artist, Tonino Guerra. The film went unnoticed; not too many reviews were written and the film generated very little attention on the Oscar wavelength. The film can now be found on YouTube. 

It’s now 2012, and after having a sudden resurgence of Armenian films and filmmakers this past year, with films such as My Uncle Rafael, Crossroad, and Lost and Found in Armenia all either being released this year or being showcased in a notable film festival, Armenia has once again lined up a film for the Oscars. 

Armenia enters the race with Natalya Belyauskene’s If Only Everyone. Karen Shakhnazarov’s White Tiger, which is Russia’s official submission, is also directed by an Armenian filmmaker.

If Only Everyone takes places 20 years after Armenia’s independence and centers on a young Russian woman’s efforts to plant a tree on her father’s grave only to discover the burial site lies on the other side of the border in Armenia. The film has been selected as the closing night film at this year’s Arpa International Film Festival, which will be a great opportunity for the Armenian community to see the film that will represent their country at the Oscars. 

It’s not a matter of making the shortlist or receiving a nomination, it’s the simple fact that we’re in the conversation.