Films from around the world have gained more recognition on the predominantly American awards stage of late, with productions from all corners of the world picking up nominations and wins in the Academy Award category for Best Foreign Language film, which is pretty much the only major award in Hollywood as far as non-American foreign language cinema is concerned. However, I feel that there is still a lot of progress to be made in the recognition and promotion of world cinema.
Separating films and confining them to one award simply because they have been shot in a different language or part of the world doesn’t help when to comes to encouraging audiences to broaden their horizons and experience a wider range of storylines and cultures. It’s not because foreign language films are considered as inferior by critics either – films such as Amélie and El Laberinto de Fauno have been included on many must-watch lists and have since become popular worldwide. But many others remain confined to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film award in terms of their nominations – an award which isn’t really promoted or highlighted during the ceremony on the night itself, which is perhaps the most prominent promotion for the Academy Award nominees and the one that sticks in the minds of audiences.
The award itself has been the subject of contention and controversy for a while now, with a variety of films not being accepted for nomination onto the long-list. The nomination for one film representing each country is decided on by a committee composed of film judges and experts from that country.
Such a one nomination policy has been criticised in the past, because of it’s implication that some worthy films have missed out on nominations for the award and are unlikely to be recognised in other categories. Although some individuals who have worked on films from the best Foreign Language short-list have in the past been nominated for other awards to recognise their work, it still doesn’t seem fair. The Film Federation of India was accused of personal bias by director Bhavna Talwar in 2007, when it nominated Eklavya: The Royal Guard for the award instead of his film Dharma, which he suggested was due to the connections that Federation members had with the film’s producers.
The definition of what a country is has also proven to be an issue of contention, with some Palestinian films being excluded in the past because the Academy has not considered the area which has sent the nomination in as a ‘country’, meaning that some foreign films covering divisive or relevant current issues have also failed to make the longlist. Humbert Balsan, who produced the acclaimed Palestinian film Divine Intervention, was told it could not be nominated as the Academy did not consider the state to be a country.
In such a complex situation, the solution must be to recognise all films at award ceremonies on an equal level, regardless of the language in which they have been filmed and place every single one on an equal footing based on it’s cinematic content, rather than the language that it has been filmed in or the geopolitical situation in the area in which it was produced. Unfortunately, it seems there is a long way to go before we reach that stage, as with such a closed off voting process and a lack of public awareness of foreign cinema in many of the countries where the awards are most prominent, very few will be pushing for change.