Oscars: Belarus Selects 'Crystal Swan' for Foreign-Language Category

Courtesy of Loco Films
'Crystal Swan'

Darya Zhuk's debut feature will be the country's first Academy Awards submission in 22 years.

Belarus became the first European country to announce its 2019 Oscars submission Saturday when it named Darya Zhuk's debut feature Crystal Swan as its selection for the best foreign language film category.

The announcement — made onstage before the film's world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic — marks the first time in 22 years that the authoritarian former Soviet Republic has sent a film to the Academy Awards. The last was Dmitriy Astrakhan's Yiddish-, Russian- and German-language Holocaust drama From Hell to Hell in 1996.

Crystal Swan, which opened the festival's Eastern Europe-focused competitive program, "East of the West," is the story of a young female Belarusian hip-hop DJ in the mid- 1990s who dreams of emigrating to America and finding fame in the music scene there.

A gritty, realistic portrayal of life in the capital Minsk and a provincial town whose economy relies on the production of crystal glassware, the film stars Siberia-born newcomer Alina Nasibullina, who was last seen in Russian film How Victor the Garlic Took Alexei the Stud to the Nursing Home, which won the East of the West competition in Karlovy Vary last year.

The film is directed by Minsk-born, New York-based Zhuk, who studied economics at Havard before discovering that filmmaking was her passion.

Produced by Demarsh Film, Crystal Goose, Turnstyle TV, Unfound Films and Vice Films, Crystal Swan is a Belarus/USA/German/Russia co-production.

The film, which includes backing from funds at the New York Council for the Arts, the Hessen Film Fund (Germany) and the Tribeca Film Institute, is due to premiere in Belarusian on Aug. 30.

Laurent Danielou at Loco Films, Paris is handling world sales.