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The Netflix-backed drama set during the 1970s Khmer Rouge genocide will debut on 23 screens in Phnom Penh and Siam Riep courtesy of local distributor Westec Media. The rollout is considered a wide release in the country, where cinema infrastructure per capita remains limited. The film is expected to screen throughout the month.
Jolie’s fourth feature as a director, First They Killed My Father is an adaptation of a memoir by Cambodian writer Loung Ung about surviving the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime as a child.
Despite Netflix’s notoriety for eschewing the big screen, it’s understood that Jolie, who holds dual citizenship with Cambodia and adopted one of her children in the country, felt that it was important that the movie be shown in cinemas there — “We’re making this first and foremost for Cambodia,” she said during the film’s U.S. premiere at Telluride earlier this week.
But the Cambodian theatrical run also means the movie will soon clear a key requirement for consideration in the Academy’s best foreign-language film category, which states that eligible films must have screened for at least seven consecutive days in their country of origin. Although directed by Jolie and produced by Netflix, First They Killed My Father is believed to satisfy the Academy’s various other criteria to be considered Cambodian, given that it is told in the Khmer language and features an all-Cambodian cast and setting. The movie is also co-produced by Cambodian auteur and past Oscar nominee Rithy Panh, whose Phnom Penh-based company Bophana Production supplied production services to the project.
Past nominally foreign films with heavy overseas involvement have run into trouble though. The China-France co-production Wolf Totem — directed by French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud but featuring an all-Chinese cast — was deemed ineligible by the Academy as China’s submission in 2015 because not enough of its top-level creatives and production positions were Chinese.
Following a mostly warm reception from Telluride critics, First They Killed My Father has emerged as the clear front-runner to be Cambodia’s Oscar submission. The official word won’t come for at least a week, however.
“The Cambodian Oscar Selection Committee has finished voting and made its selection,” Mariam Ann Arthur, the organization’s chairperson tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I can confirm that First They Killed My Father was among the titles we considered, but we won’t formally announce our selection until it is accepted by the Academy,” she added.
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