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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ international feature voting committee, a group of hundreds of Academy members which is annually tasked with picking a shortlist of contenders for the best international feature Oscar from a field of close to 100 submissions, is bringing back a version of a voting system that it abandoned a few years ago.
In a missive to committee members on Tuesday, the Academy notified committee members, “Required viewing assignments will be sent the first week of January.”
“Required viewing groups,” according to sources close to the committee, are a new and improved variation of the old “color groups” system by which the Academy used to divide committee members into groups, each referred to by a different color, and each assigned an equal portion of the films that had been submitted from around the world. Members from one group could still attend screenings of films assigned to another, but would have to watch a certain percentage of the films assigned to their group in order to ultimately vote for the shortlist.
The color groups system was abandoned for the past two seasons as part of an effort to encourage greater participation on the committee from members around the world, who, if necessary, could now stream submissions rather than attend them in-person. And indeed committee participation soared into the hundreds.
But in a year in which, due to the pandemic, all screenings are taking place via the Academy’s members-only streaming portal Academy Screening Room, the Academy felt that it needed to take steps to make sure that all films were given a fair hearing.
Under the new system of required viewing groups, the committee will be divided into three equally-sized groups, each of which will be presented with a list of one-third of the submissions, and committee members will be required to watch 50 percent of their assignments in order to vote. (The same system was already being employed by the committees that select the documentary feature and animated feature shortlists.)
Committee members will, of course, also be able to stream films outside of their required viewing group, but unlike in the era of color groups, those viewings will not count toward their minimum requirement. (In the old days, something like two viewings of a film assigned to a group other than one’s own would count as one within one’s own.)
Somewhat surprisingly, more than 90 films from around the world were submitted by this year’s three-months-later-than-usual Dec. 1 international feature submission deadline — a number commensurate with other recent years, despite the pandemic, because the Academy allowed countries to qualify by screening a film by Dec. 31 (a) outside of their country for seven consecutive days or (b) if a planned theatrical release in their own country was prevented by government-mandated theater closings, via a reputable streaming service.
This year, unlike years past, the Academy has opted not to announce a list of submitted films, but rather to wait until it has vetted and confirmed the eligibility of all submitted films, meaning a list of contenders will not come until January.
But, as the Academy has been vetting and confirming international films, they are being added to the Academy Screening Room service. And, as of Tuesday, 48 titles are now available to members there, and, per Tuesday’s communication, more “will continue to be added throughout the holiday break.”
Some members have vented to The Hollywood Reporter that more titles haven’t been made available to them sooner, meaning they will have to cram a lot of screenings into a relatively short period of time. Indeed, shortlist preliminary voting begins on Feb. 1 at 9am PST and ends at 5pm PST on Feb. 5, which is little more than a month from now.
The counter-argument in defense of the Academy is that many countries waited until just before the Dec. 1 deadline to submit their films, at which point the Academy — which also got inundated around that date with submissions from other categories that have preliminary voting — needed time to vet and confirm eligibility, handle subtitles for the Academy Screening Room, etc.
Two constituencies that are not griping at the Academy in this dumpster-fire of a year are Portugal and Canada, which have been shown unusual “compassion” by the organization. The Academy is usually highly officious about sticking to the letter of its rules as far as eligibility. (See: Armenia in 2016 or Nigeria or Austria last year.) But this year, it has allowed Portugal and Canada to submit replacement films even after the submission deadline passed and it determined that their original entries had not met their most basic requirement of being at least 50 percent in a language or languages other than English. (Granted, the eligibility period had already ended and the voting process had already begun when the aforementioned issues were discovered with Armenia, Nigeria and Austria, unlike when clemency was shown to Portugal and Canada this year.)
Portugal initially submitted Ana Rocha de Sousa‘s Listen, a 77-minute film with only 10 minutes of non-English, requesting an exemption from the rules. The nation was denied, but was still allowed to submit a replacement title; Pedro Costa‘s Vitalina Varela is now being evaluated for eligibility.
Canada, meanwhile, also appears to have known that it was playing with fire when it submitted Funny Doy, a Deepa Mehta film that was mostly in English, because it concurrently submitted an alternate title; Jean-Philippe Duval‘s 14 Days, 12 Nights, is now being evaluated for eligibility.
Other countries that submitted films but were missing required paperwork have also been allowed to amend those oversights this year.
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