Academy Changes International Feature Oscar Shortlist Selection Process Due to Pandemic

An exterior of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building-Getty - H 2020
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Due to concerns about their ability to protect the security of the process through which the best international feature Oscar shortlist is determined, given the pandemic forcing deliberations to take place online, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has decided to change that process for just this year.

In years past, the international feature preliminary committee — a group of volunteers from across the Academy's branches who screen the films submitted from around the world at the Academy's headquarters in Beverly Hills or its Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood — pick seven of the 10 films that ultimately appear on the shortlist. Those selections are then confidentially shared by the accounting firm PwC with the international feature executive committee, which, in turn, adds three other titles to the seven, producing a shortlist of 10. The public is never told which seven are committee choices and which three are "saves," so as not to influence the subsequent selection of the five nominees and eventual winner.

This year, however, the process will be different. The Academy decided several months ago to invite all of its Academy members — not just those based in the Los Angeles area near the Academy's screening sites — to weigh in during the first phase of the selection process if they wish, since the pandemic had forced all screenings to take place via the Academy's online streaming service.

More recently, The Hollywood Reporter has learned, the Academy concluded that holding the executive committee's online deliberations via Zoom or a similar platform would leave them open to leaks or hacks, and decided not to take that risk.

Consequently, this year's shortlist will solely be determined by the preliminary committee. Additionally, in a decision unrelated to the pandemic, the shortlist will be expanded from 10 slots to 15.

The latter decision may be more reflective of the strain being felt by some preliminary committee members — and shared with The Hollywood Reporter — about having to sift through a record 93 submissions in less than a month.

It wasn't until early January that the preliminary committee even received its "assignments." (Committee members are divided into viewing groups and asked to make sure they have watched a specific grouping of submitted films, this year numbering 12, after which they can vote to shortlist those or any others.)

The counter-argument is that they can watch those films at any time prior to the close of shortlist voting on Feb. 5 (it opens on Feb. 1), as opposed to the normal process of having to schlep to the Academy's headquarters at a specific time, at some point over a roughly two-month period, to see their assigned films or any others.

The best international feature Oscar shortlist, and all other shortlists, will be made public on Feb. 9.