Indie reported yesterday that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences received the official submissions for the 83rd Academy Awards’ foreign language category.  While this is certainly a strong year for foreign films, some of the submissions are already starting to stir up old feelings between the smaller independent productions and the big Hollywood-backed films.  This year, award-winning Mexican filmmaker, Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñáritu, managed to get his film, BIUTIFUL, to officially represent Mexico at the gala ceremony.  While there is no guarantee that his film will be among those officially selected as a finalist, his decision to submit his film certainly guarantees that a lesser known filmmaker from Mexico gets his or her work recognized on the world stage.

The rules that govern what constitutes a foreign film are vague at best.  In Iñáritu’s case, BIUTIFUL is hardly a Mexican film.  Shot entirely in Spain, cast entirely with Spanish actors, with a story revolving around Spanish characters portraying their daily lives, this film should have, for all intents and purposes, represented Spain, not Mexico. But since Spain’s official entry turned out to be Iciar Bollain’s EVEN THE RAIN, the powers that be decided that Iñáritu’s citizenship was enough to consider his film Mexican.  This is not only unfair to those filmmakers trying to make a dent on the world stage; but it is unfair to Mexican audiences who I’m sure would have preferred to see one of their films, shot in, cast entirely in, and wholly about Mexico.

Films submitted for Oscar consideration are supposed to be that nation’s crown jewel.  It is supposed to represent the best of the best produced in that country, about that country, starring that country’s top talent.  In 1999, world audiences either hated or loved AMORES PERROS, Iñáritu’s last Oscar submission from Mexico.  While many didn’t think it matched the quality of film only produced in the US, that film was Mexico’s best that year, and so it rightfully deserved to represent Mexico.  Had it not, I’m sure fewer people would have ever gotten to know Iñáritu’s work as his nomination propelled him to stardom with studios in the US.  In 2007, Guillermo del Toro also pulled a fast one on Mexico by having his film, PAN’S LABYRINTH, receive the nomination as Mexico’s best foreign film.  Again, the only thing “Mexican” about that film was the director and a few of its crew.

As a filmmaker filled with national pride, I would like to see more undiscovered talent get an opportunity to have their work recognized on the world stage.  Just because a more established filmmaker is unable to get the nomination one way doesn’t give him or her the right to circumvent the rules by claiming that their citizenship alone makes that film part of that country’s experience.  The system needs to change, not just how AMPAS accepts foreign films officially, but how country’s themselves determine what makes that film submission that country’s national treasure.

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