China Confirms 'Wolf Totem' as Oscar Submission Amid Controversy

Annaud Zhangke Split H 2015

A source close to China's Film Bureau says director Jia Zhangke failed in his attempt to get his art house drama 'Mountains May Depart' nominated in place of the period epic from French auteur Jean-Jacques Annaud.

After some late-stage politicking by Chinese art house star Jia Zhangke, China has settled on Jean-Jacques Annaud's Wolf Totem as its official Oscar submission after all. 

In August, the producers of Wolf Totem — a Chinese-language period epic co-produced by China and France — told The Hollywood Reporter they had been informed that their film would be getting the official nod as China's entry in the race for this year's foreign-language Academy Award.

But trouble started brewing last week when Jia told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival that he intended to make an application to China's Film Bureau for his latest feature, Mountains May Depart, to be submitted to the Oscars instead. Jia's producers had arranged for a limited one-week release for the film in Chinese cinemas, so that it could qualify under the Academy's rules dictating that all movies submitted have had at least a one-week commercial run in their home country. "I'd like to go for this," Jia said.

Those statements prompted one of Wolf Totem's producers, Wang Weimin, to coyly insult Jia on Chinese social media while publicly rehearsing his case for why Wolf Totem should represent his country at the Oscars.

On Monday, sources close to the discussions in Beijing told THR that China's Film Bureau was going ahead with its original plan to put Wolf Totem forward as its contender.

"Wolf Totem shall represent China for the Oscars; Jia Zhangke tried and applied, but the Film Bureau denied him," said the source, who asked to remain unnamed, as the decision had not yet been made public.

Although Wolf Totem has far and away been the bigger box- office performer in China — the film grossed $110.5 million during its run, while Mountains May Depart didn't register in the top 10 at the Chinese box office for a single day during its release – Jia had plenty of backers in the social media firestorm that followed Wang's online outburst last week, with many of them questioning whether Wolf Totem was the right choice given that its director, Annaud, is French.

This is the second year in a row that China has nominated a film directed by a Frenchman for Oscar consideration. In 2014, China submitted Philippe Muyl's China-France co-production The Nightingale

Based on the semi-autobiographical, best-selling novel by Lu Jiamin, writing under the pseudonym Jiang Rong, Wolf Totem tells the story of a Chinese student who travels to Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution to live among the nomadic herdsman, becoming fascinated with the wolves that roam the steppes. Seven years in the making, the film required two packs of wolves that were trained specifically for use in the film, which was shot in 3-D.

Jia's Mountains was a critical favorite at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered in May.