Oscars: Foreign-Language Committee Seen as "Shady Cabal," Winner Jokes

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Pawel Pawlikowski

At an AMPAS event at the London Film Festival, 'Ida' director Pawel Pawlikowsi said he never paid much attention to the catagory.

The secrets to the Academy’s foreign-language film award selection process were opened up on the eighth day of the BFI London Film Festival on Wednesday as AMPAS representatives gave a special talk on the subject.

Mark Johnson, chair of the foreign-language category, admitted that many thought the process was a “bit of a mystery,” but endeavored to detail the various phases and committees involved that see the submissions – 81 this year – whittled down to nine and, eventually, five nominated films.

In his 13 years as chair, Johnson has altered the course of the foreign-language award, which he admitted in the past had favored “less challenging” films. “Our nominees are no longer predictable, are no longer the soft and expected,” he said. “A number of older members wanted to kill me when Dogtooth was nominated.”

Pawel Pawlikowski, who won the 2015 foreign-language award with Ida, which also won in London last year, admitted that he “never paid much attention to the Oscars” and joked that many countries thought the selection process involved a “shady cabal” in L.A.

“If there was one film I didn’t think would have any chance it’s this one,” he said, adding that Ida was first rejected from Venice and only began its roll after screening in Telluride.

“I remember Nick Broomfield came up to me in New York and said, ‘you clever sod! Doing something in Polish! If you can’t get through the main door, you get through the kitchen,’ it was a funny experience,” he added.

After the buzz following Telluride, the word "Oscar" started appearing and Pawlikowski, who is also head of the London Film Festival jury, said then he began to think it could be a contender.

“I looked at the foreign-language Oscars over the past few years and I realized there had been Haneke, Sorrentino," he said. "I used to think of the foreign-language Oscar films as really soppy, humanistic ... badly made.”