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More than 6,000 languages are spoken somewhere in the world today, but for 90 minutes at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Jan. 4, the filmmakers behind seven of the nine countries that have landed spots on the best foreign language film Oscar shortlist — from which five Oscar nominees were chosen last weekend and will be announced to the public on Jan. 15 — were all speaking the same one: movies.
Joining me for the first annual “Oscar-Shortlisted Foreign Filmmakers in Conversation” panel were Alberto Arvelo for Venezuela’s The Liberator (Cohen Media Group); Paula van der Oest for the Netherlands’ Accused (still seeking U.S. distribution); George Ovashvili for Georgia’s Corn Island (still seeking U.S. distribution); Abderrahmane Sissako for Mauritania’s Timbuktu (Cohen Media Group); Damian Szifron for Argentina’s Wild Tales (Sony Pictures Classics); Zaza Urushadze for Estonia’s Tangerines (still seeking U.S. distribution); and Andreay Zvyaginstev for Russia’s Leviathan (Sony Pictures Classics), which won the best foreign language film Golden Globe on Sunday.
Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of Poland’s Ida (Music Box Films), and Ruben Ostlund, the director of Sweden’s Force Majeure (Magnolia), were unable to attend.
As you can see by checking out the video at the top of this post (which has been condensed to an hour by dubbing the answers of non-English-speakers with the responses of their translators), I asked the panelists to talk about the inspiration for their projects; their experiences raising financing for them; the role that film festivals played in getting them noticed and appreciated; and the reaction, of them and their homelands, to their film landing a coveted spot among the Oscar finalists. (For some, it was the first time that a film from their nation had ever made it so far — and for one, it was the first time that their nation had even submitted a film!)
I also brought up topics that were specific to the individual films — for instance: why the decision was made to feature such little dialogue in Corn Island; how the great LA Philharmonic music director Gustavo Dudamel was convinced to write a film score for the first time for The Liberator; how Accused helped the Dutch people come to terms with the biggest miscarriage of justice in their nation’s history; how the outstanding child actors in Timbukutu were found and directed; which other anti-war films influenced Tangerines; where the comedic tone of Wild Tales comes from; and how Russia, a nation that is not very tolerant of criticism from anyone, least of all its own people, responded to the way that Leviathan — a film for which it provided significant financing — calls attention to present-day political corruption within its borders.
My thanks for their partnership in this great event go to all seven panelists, their translators and our gracious hosts at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, a great event that has a long history of championing foreign films (and included in its lineup last year and this year all nine Oscar-shortlisted films).
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