Austria nabs a trio of Oscar noms

Christoph Waltz, 'The White Ribbon' recognized

COLOGNE, Germany -- Tiny Austria, population 8 million, has three candidates in this year's Oscar race: supporting actor Christoph Waltz of "Inglourious Basterds"; director Michael Haneke, nominated in the best foreign language category for "The White Ribbon"; and "Ribbon" cinematographer Christian Berger.

You'd have to go back to the glory days of Billy Wilder to find a year when Austrians had a chance to win so many golden statuettes. (For the record, Wilder is top Austrian winner with six Oscars, plus one lifetime achievement honor.)

Austria has been overachieving on the international scene for some time now. The country picked up its first foreign-language Oscar in 2008 with Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters," and Gotz Spielmann's Austrian thriller "Revanche" earned an Oscar nom last year.

This time around, the foreign nom for "White Ribbon" won't count in Austria's favor, however, since the film is running under the German flag. This has nothing to do with the director -- Haneke was born in Germany but is an Austrian national -- and everything to do with the financing. The bulk of the money for "White Ribbon" came from Germany through lead producers X Filme.

For his part, Haneke said he is "indifferent" to the national label stamped on his film for the Oscars.

"From the financing side, the Germans put in around 50% of the money, so they get the right to claim the film," he said. "But it is like some swimmer winning the 100 meters. Every nation jumps up and says the country won, but really it was the swimmer who won."

Vienna has already jumped up to capitalize on the Oscar glory. The Austrian government recently fast-tracked a new film fund that will provide nearly $30 million during the next three years to encourage features to shoot in the country and prevent Austria's bigger neighbors from headhunting its talent.

The government also hopes it will encourage more international productions to shoot in the alpine nation. The Austrian Film Assn. estimates the fund could help back some 20-30 titles a year.

Supporters of the fund used the examples of Waltz and Haneke to argue that Austria needs to support its local filmmakers or they'll continue to leave the country.

Waltz is perhaps the best example. Born and raised in Vienna, he has spent most of his career in German TV before starring in "Basterds" -- a U.S./German production that shot in Germany to take advantage of German film incentives. Now, just a month away from a likely Oscar win, and with starring roles in "The Green Hornet" and David Cronenberg's "The Talking Cure," the Austrian has finally arrived. In Hollywood.
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