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As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences advances toward its awards ceremony on Feb. 26, debate has percolated online about the accuracy and viability of the nomination process for many of the categories in contention. In particular, the Best Foreign Language Film category continues to polarize industry experts as many of the year’s most well-received films went unrecognized when nominations were handed out Jan. 24.
Today, two of THR’s Oscar-season experts – Features Executive Editor Stephen Galloway and Editor-at-Large Kim Masters – sat down with Mark Johnson, chair of the Academy’s foreign language film selection committee, for a candid discussion about how the process of choosing foreign films is and isn’t working. Observing that this was an annual debate, Galloway introduced the lengthy chat with a detailed description of the nomination process for the Foreign Language Film category, then engaged Johnson in a contentious but respectful debate about how best to recognize the greatest achievements in world cinema each year.
Galloway explained the five steps of the selection process, the first of which is where the editor filed his earliest complaint: Each country chooses one film to represent it. Critiquing the cronyism and political positioning that often favors less-deserving films or renders more-deserving ones ineligible, Galloway suggested that the committee include as a matter of policy foreign-language films that won top awards at film festivals around the world. While Johnson agreed that the idea was a good one in theory, he pointed out that practice would result in a likely equal number of complaints from smaller countries when category mainstays like France or Germany win multiple nominations.
Johnson insisted that as chair of the committee, he’s made every effort to establish the closest thing to a level playing field. Masters refereed their debate as Galloway and Johnson traded arguments over the screenings themselves: Johnson insisted on the necessity for voters to see the films in theaters, while Galloway suggested that for voting purposes after nominations have been handed out, screeners be made available to Academy members who may be too busy or too remote to attend theatrical screenings.
As the discussion came to a close, Galloway rattled off a list of titles from film history that were never nominated or otherwise recognized by the Foreign Language Film category, including The 400 Blows, The Seventh Seal and La Dolce Vita. But even as Johnson suggested that ultimately the validity of one nominee over another is often purely a matter of taste, he acknowledged that Galloway and THR had recognized the committee’s efforts to update their rules to offer all potential candidates a fair shot. Now it remains to be seen who wins, so that THR can start preparing its evidence for next year’s discussion.
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