THE PROBLEM OF THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE OSCAR AWARD...
Source: The Academy's Lousy Foreign Film Policy (Analysis) (Stephen Galloway; The Hollywood Reporter; 13 Jan 2012) / Oscar Smackdown: THR's Stephen Galloway Squares Off with AMPAS Committee Chair Over 'Lousy' Foreign Film Policy (Todd Gilchrist; The Hollywood Reporter; 2 Feb 2012) video debate 39'
Stephen Galloway (skeptic; THR) vs. Mark Johnson (chair of the Academy’s foreign language film selection committee)
Galloway's futile quest is to fix the art-unfriendliness of an Academy that is structurally MAINSTREAM, CONSERVATIVE and COMMERCIAL. American distributors don't even bother to screen foreign films why would Hollywood care about figuring out which foreign film is REALLY the best of the year? No cinéphiles in the world waits for the Oscars's populist poll anyway. That they have a "foreign film" category at all is already a must.
The "foreign language award", like for documentaries or animation or short films... it's a consolatory prize for not being able to compete like everyone else for the Best Picture Oscar. It guaranties the presence of a non-American title at the ceremony. (Point Johnson)
The wording of the award ("Foreign Language" instead of "Foreign Film") is confusing but not a loophole for American movies (in foreign language) to snatch the consolatory award reserved for non-American-non-English, because these already get 10 nomination slots in the main award. Same reason why Heavyweights don't fight Lightweights and steal their belt, or else don't separate weight class categories in boxe. (Point Johnson if he had said it)
English is not even the official language of the USA... why such melting-pot country would elect an English-speaking movie for Best Picture systematically? Why would Spanish be considered "foreign" and not domestic??? Maybe because Hollywood doesn't make enough SPANISH language movies for its Hispanic customers... (26% of admissions in the USA are from Hispanics)
This brings another contention : the ineligibility of films who can't claim any nationality, which is a legitimate concern this time (Point Gallaway). Johnson defends the "fairness" of the process (1 submission per country), yet is willing to disregard all films made by complicated co-productions. This rule is outdated it negates the power of this trans-national diversity.
1 country = 1 film. This is a valid rule. It gives a shot a underexposed countries, and prevents the monopoly of Oscars by Hollywood to extend to a couple major European players (see: history of Foreign Language Oscar by country). There is no point submitting films for the rest of the world if it's only USA, UK, France and Italy winning all the awards (which is more or less what happens already). (Point Johnson)
5 "Foreign Language" nominees (while there are 10 for the English language category!) out of 5500 films made worldwide every year is an arbitrary selection... who cares if the subsequent voting process is "fair"...
Johnson's stresses out the nationality of the director (and the crew) as a factor of ineligibility... but how many Best Picture nominees are made with Hollywood money, yet by a foreign director? (Johnson Fail)
Whether the initial nominees are chosen by an AMPAS-equivalent academy in each country, or by the government, or by local critics... will always be subject to controversy regarding the pressure/censorship they experience. Given the very mainstream culture goal of the Oscars, it makes little difference. The AMPAS could be just as (self-)censored (politically, ideologically) as China, Iran or Israel (there is as much cronyism in Hollywood!!!); their selection and award doesn't meet critical standards, and doesn't try to.
If the Academy really wanted to elect the best film of the year, they wouldn't ask governments but critics. But since American critics can't even agree, with all the freedom possible, why would it make the Oscar more relevant culturally (worldwide) than the Year-end Top10 (or Top300) they publish? (See: Critical Fallacy #13 Inconsistent Standards)
If you don't trust the foreign Academies... just get a college of international (or festival-goer) critics to select the 60 nominees regardless for the country of origin. The Oscars are American-made, and ultimately voted on by Americans, so picking the 60 initial titles yourself isn't imperialism (American press Top10s of the year are exactly that : "we tell you what was the best movie in your country, and which countries did better than yours") (See: Presumptuous Best Film in the World) (both Gallaway and Johnson FAIL)
Johnson believes that by widen the base of voters he'll get a more relevant result... I know that restricting the vote to COMPETENT experts is the best way to reach a plausible evaluation. He relies on the "wisdom of crowds" (statistical poll of diverse subjective tastes) which gives an AVERAGE opinion where the POPULAR choice (lowest common denominator) outweighs the radical options. (Johnson FAIL)
Johnson is praised for watching 60 foreign films in 2 months to select 9 pre-nominees (which he feels is overwhelming, and representative of world cinema!?!), while the Cannes curators watch nearly 2000 films to select their line up of 20!
And the 250-300 voters (from the 6000 AMPAS members; that "cross-section of the Academy is a lie!) must watch all 5 final nominees in order to be able to vote (which Johnson says is already TOO MUCH), while the 10 juries in Cannes are forced to watch ALL-20 films selected, in theatre, in a week, in order to vote for the awards. (it is possible when you put in the effort)
Watching nominees on the big screen is too "time-consuming" for the committee... poor things!
Either you want to make your award "fair", and "representative", and you commit to what it takes (instead of treating it like a daily errand you must get done with between your hair salon and your shooting set)... or you stop pretending your over-complicated voting process is working... (Johnson FAIL)
The idea that an "Executive Committee" should complete the choices of the "General Committee" proves alone that you don't trust the "democratic" process of your system! What makes the expertise of one group superior to the other? If one is "overlooking" certain films, it's either by design (and you should respect their choice) or they didn't watch them (and they should be allowed to vote in the first place!) (Johnson FAIL)
"The Academy doesn't acknowledges the existence of DVD screeners". Are you saying that the 300 final voters who decide which one is the best of the 5 nominees watch them on the big screen? I thought I heard they all receive a DVD boxset with all the nominees for all the categories. that's what happen at the Césars in France... which is more purist about projecting foreign films the way they were intended to!
Johnson mistakes his statistical poll, with a jury vote. Juries must watch on the big screen because their votes are few. But when you get 300 people to vote, it negates individuality, misunderstanding, subjectivity... the point of a popular consensus is to reach a statistical average. Given the circumstances (low-appeal foreign films, busy voters, having to watch all-or-none at all), the advantages of a DVD screener (increasing the nominees to 10!) would outweigh the eventual "loss" of pristine projection. Especially since these film professionals are used to watch videos on combo, on virtual editing, at home...
* * *
Past 10 Foreign-language Oscar category winners :
- 2010: Hævnen (Denmark) 51 screens [INVISIBLE] / $1,007,908
- 2009: El secreto de sus ojos (Argentina) 166 screens [NICHE] / $6,390,014
- 2008: Departures (Japan) 27 screens [INVISIBLE] / $1,542,989
- 2007: The Counterfeiters (Austria) 170 screens [NICHE] / $5,483,549
- 2006: The Lives of Others (Germany) 259 screens [NICHE] / $11,286,112
- 2005: Tsotsi (South Africa) 122 screens [NICHE] / $2,912,363
- 2004: Mar adentro (Spain) 99 screens [INVISIBLE] / $2,086,345
- 2003: Les Invasions barbares (Canada) 139 screens [NICHE] / $3,432,342
- 2002: Nowhere in Africa (Germany) 78 screens [INVISIBLE] / $6,173,485
- 2001: No Man's Land (Bosnia & Herzegovina) 38 screens [INVISIBLE] / $1,059,830
The effect of the Oscar Award on the distribution of a foreign film in the USA isn't too apparent... in comparison to the usual 6 screens release maybe?
I think America has bigger problems to fix (Distribution!) than the meager 5 nominees the AMPAS reserves for WORLD CINEMA, out of pity... The Oscars have no relevance to art cinema, get over it.
Why the hell am I discussing anything related to the Oscars anyway????