During the entire Oscar weekend and throughout the show, IndieWire found out why globalization is not enough to remove the stigma attached to foreign-language films.
The Oscars sometimes measure the value of true artistic achievement, but attending the ceremony always gives a first-hand look at how the Academy Awards can strike even the brightest artistic minds. While not different this year, it also offered signs of deeper frustration with the system.
I stood in the foyer of the Dolby Theater, watching the tuxedo-laden stars trudging through the crowded room. A few dizzying characters celebrated the "Best Picture" victory for "Green Book", but every other face in this slo-mo exit march was disappointed with the missed opportunity to award "Roma" ̵
I saw a high-profile Spanish-speaking actor in the crowd. "It's sad," he said. "The support was there, but at the end of the day, you have to think it's a foreign movie. So you wanted an American movie. "He sighed. "But give it anyway" The Favorite "or something! Why this PC bullshit?"
That was "Green Book," of course, the mid-mid-rise crowd-pleaser, about a white man driving a black man through America's racist deep South of the 1960s era, the film apparently enjoyed wider contingency, but its vanilla rapprochement with race relations, filtered through the eyes of a white man on both sides of the camera, was registered as a rejection of Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma", in which an indigenous Mexican woman is at the heart of an intimate ode to the country's domestic workers, the boundaries of the traditional Oscar lure remained intact.
Yet, the night was not a total loss in this respect. "Hey," the actor said, "at least Alfonso has three Oscars. "
The trio of Cuarón, who won wins for cinematography, foreign-language film and director, offered him many opportunities to celebrate. Victory made him the first director to be won over as his own director of photography, and it was the first director's prize for a non-English film.
Netflix spent a fortune pushing "Roma" to Oscar heavyweight. and while many industrial factors worked against it – an anti-netflix bias by those who devalued its minimal support for the theater, the demographic structure of an academy still dominated by white people, has pushed the commercialization of an art film to its limits. Netflix's unprecedented international reach was opposed to the stigma that places non-English films in smaller categories. Ultimately, however, "Green Book", which beat "Roma", offered a microcosmic view of the contradictory forces of globalization: even Netflix has a long way to go to resolve this tension.
The night before the big brawl, I spent the evening at the Soho House in West Hollywood with a foreign-language Oscar nominee who would lose 24 hours later. Talal Derki, the Syrian director based in Berlin, risked his life to make the best documentary filmmaker "Of Fathers and Sons" one of the most extraordinary films of this year's Oscars. Derki pretended to be a war photographer sympathetic to religious extremism and embarked on a jihadist sniper who took the man's affections for his children as he prepared them for a terrorist training camp. "I do not go for light films," he said. "Of Fathers and Sons"
That was an understatement: "Of Fathers and Sons" last won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Year and rave reviews, but the festival ended without distribution. One manufacturer said Netflix had shown no interest in the project; The team shared a link on the Cinando streaming platform where they could see viewership data, and found that a Netflix representative had turned off the movie after 15 minutes. The streaming platform may have taken great steps to turn "Roma" into an Oscar bait, but the prospect of an intimate portrait of Middle Eastern terrorists – a brilliant cinematography – was too risky.
Truly daring filmmakers' achievements remain marginalized. "Of Fathers and Sons" eventually landed at Kino Lorber, the New York-based distributor specializing in foreign-language films. Long before Netflix got the Oscar mistake, Kino put in a series of daring work in 2009 that impacted on the dystopian family thriller "Dogtooth" by Yorgos Lanthimos. The company had received seven nominations for foreign films in nine years.
Cinema, however, had a hard time booking Derki's movie in New York cinemas. Like Netflix, the company was reluctant to take the risk. The film eventually went to the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, where he grossed $ 12,000. Even I missed it last week and was so amazed that I immediately came to the conclusion that my list of the top 10 would have been cracked in December. After his Oscar nomination, the film was released in iTunes.
At the Soho House movie theater, Richard Lorber, CEO of Cinema Lorber, took the big picture, including Netflix's estimated $ 25 million campaign for "Roma" and wondering if a potential profit would mean a gain in expansion Potential for foreign language films. "What would be a turning point in would be spending 50 percent of their Oscar budget on 25 foreign films," he said. "You could buy it from me. They are not I have other films that are just as good or maybe even better, but they are not in foreign language business. They made a worldwide crusade with "Roma".
He shrugged. "See, I do business with Netflix, they're great to me and I respect what it's about," he said. "But the fact that they promoted this beautiful Mexican film about steroids distorts the reality of what the Netflix audience expects and what Netflix will actually do to support world cinema."
The limitations of Netflix tell only part of the story. Within the Bubble of the Oscar Universe, considerable effort has been made to expand the reach of foreign-language films. About 700 volunteers from the Academy coordinate the screenings of foreign-language submissions and reduce the field from 87 to nine shortlisted titles to the five possible candidates. The Academy's Deputy Director, Meredith Shea, is also overseeing the efforts to make voters aware that they can vote for films in other categories. Apart from the "Roma", who won three prizes, the Polish drama "Cold War" won nominations for cinematography and director Pawel Pawlikowski this year, while the visionary Swedish fantasy "Border" (a big hustle and bustle from this year's shortlist ) a make-up and scored hairstyling nomination.
Willy Sanjuan / Invision / AP / REX / Shutterstock
Barry Jenkins presented a nomination certificate for candidate Hirokazu Kore-eda on Friday at a Cocktail hosted by the Academy for foreign-language nominees , the Japanese director whose "Shoplifters" won the Golden Palm at Cannes. It was an inspiring choice: Jenkins & # 39; Moonlight & # 39; and & # 39; If Beale Street Could Talk & # 39; embodied the potential to go beyond the traditional boundaries of American cinema and bring the filmmakers of France, Claire Denis, to Wong Kar-Wai (Hong Kong) in a fresh representation African-American identity.
Jenkins, who has just returned from Japan to promote "If Beale Street Could Talk," talked about the discovery of Kore eda's "Still Walking" at the Mar Del Plata Film Festival. "I felt exposed to a culture that was completely foreign to me," he said on the microphone.
His girlfriend, filmmaker Lulu Wang, hovered nearby. Just over a month ago, her breakout film "The Farewell" had premiered at Sundance to hear reviews and reach the distribution with A24, which is targeting a summer release. Wang's film is based on her own experiences when she visited her ailing grandmother in China, with Awkwafina playing the lead role. Although half of the film is in Mandarin, "The Farewell" starred in Sundance's American Dramatic Competition. it has an Asian-American experience and a chance to avoid the ghettoization of foreign-language identity. "I hope that with the breakthrough of the" Roma "we will not have this topic around subtitles anymore," she said.
Nobody has addressed this problem more than Cuarón. When he received his own nomination certificate from Ava DuVernay, he suggested a note that he would repeat throughout the weekend, and talked about the importance of foreign-language films during his childhood in Mexico. "Films like The Godfather, films like Raging Bull, movies like Jaws," he said. "All these" foreign-language films "that we saw as children." He raised his eyebrows as the point sank. "Claude Chabrol once said, when asked about the New Wave, that there are no waves, there is only the ocean," he said. "And I think that all of these films that are nominated show that the human experience is all part of the same ocean. The special beach of this movie was Mexico.
Pawlikowski, whose "Cold War" made similar progress by breaking through major categories, recognized this challenge as he entered the stage. "It's great that it has traveled so far," he said. "I mean, black and white film in Polish, subtitles, with gaps in the story that end in suicide. My God! He sounded tired. "I'm thrilled that it's over, the whole Oscar business," he said. "It's harder than making movies. I've spent four or five months with you, and you have all this money, all that excitement and all that advertising. It's kind of crazy.
When the German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck accepted his certificate for "Never Look Away", he thanked the distributor Sony Pictures Classics, but came across a refrain. "They gave us the first Oscar," he said, referring to his victory in "The Lives of Others" (2006). "Even if this award goes to Alfonso, we are still happy because he becomes a good person." , "
Sony Pictures Classics, which also distributed the Lebanese nominee" Capernaum ", has excelled in the foreign language Oscar game of a generation. With the "Roma" in the spotlight, however, the two company president Michael Barker and Tom Bernard had less to celebrate. As Cuarón addressed the adoring crowd, Bernard murmured softly and grabbed a handful of chips from the buffet.
The next day, during an outdoor brunch before the Venice Beach Independent Spirit Awards, he explained his dismay. "What happens if Roma wins?" "I do not think that will change that, unless you have someone who wants to channel the resources behind another movie as much as they did." He rejected the idea that this could trigger a greater appetite for foreign-language cinema. "I wish," he said. "I look at the numbers at the box office in the cinemas."
But could "Roma", which has found a global audience, go beyond these narrow success factors? "I do not think so," said Bernard. "They are only monetized through subscriptions. Every movie has a different agenda for its editions. Some studios want recognition for their stars. Indie companies like us use them to monetize the campaign for this type of advertising. So there is no pattern. It's what each individual is up to, and money is king. The guy who spends the most wins. It's how much you want to spend, what your agenda is and whether it's profitable or not. The expenses of Netflix are certainly profits. I do not think it's good or bad. It is exactly what it is.
Rob Latour / REX / Shutterstock
Inside the tent at the Spirit Awards was Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Chief Content Officer , the table for "Roma", who would eventually win the award for best foreign film at the ceremony. He was overheard when talking about the streaming platform competition in the fall. "Disney, Warner Brothers, they're in the same boat as us," he said, refusing to elaborate. Moderator Aubrey Plaza took the stage and turned the internationalization of the film industry into a punch line. John Waters took over the food and showed the picture of the beach outdoors. "China, I see you … destroy the former art house cinema!"
During a commercial break, Focus Features CEO Peter Kujalski dismissed the notion that "Roma" had just cracked so many categories due to the deep pockets of Netflix. "I do not buy it," he said. "If you spend a ton of money on a crappy movie, that would not work so well."
The results of the next day were mixed – "Roma" won the worship of the Academy, but "Green Book" enabled familiarity dominate. Even my Lyft rider to the ceremony, a middle-aged white woman, has made "Green Book" a popular favorite. "Many people do not know what happened then," she said. "I am old enough to know." I mentioned that Mahershala Ali was a leader for the best supporting actor. "Is that the black guy?" She asked.
On the way to the ceremony, I met Diego Luna, who was landing "Narcos" for Netflix at the moment, which unfolds in a mix of English and Spanish. He recently took a breather when attending the Ambulante Show, the Mexican documentary film festival co-founded with Gael Garcia Bernal. However, he lamented the lack of government support for the project. I suggested that he might want to talk to Netflix. "Maybe!" He said, laughing. "Now it's all about Netflix."
In the bar, Paul Schrader – nominated for the best original script for "First Reformed" – looked even more outlawed than the foreigners in the room. (In "First Reformed," he channeled the traditions of transcendental cinema that inspired him in his youth, of which nothing comes from the United States.) "When I sat down, I realized I did not want to be here." He said when he remembered when he attended the Taxi Driver ceremony, he went half way through.
After the documentary category was announced and the saga "Free Solo" was climbed, the prize "Of Fathers and Sons" director Derki also wandered to the bar. "I'm disappointed," he said. "I was hoping it would be 'RGB' because it would mean something or maybe 'Minding the Gap', but he had given up his own perspective long ago." At the end of the day, this is just one thing on your resume " he said, but Derki himself was tired of producing work on the margins, signing with UTA and planning to conduct an English-language narrative. "I do not want to make war films right now," he said, "I'd like to talk a bit more about that us as a human being. "
After having won some victories, Sarandos also came out claiming that the platform was experiencing a growing interest in foreigners. He rejected the idea that Cuarón's status as a "It's because of the quality," he said, "we just do not always know who these filmmakers are." A few minutes later, "Green Book" won the best original script, and the voice Lisa Taback, Netflix Awards Advisor, stuck to a poker face, but said, "If I really knew everything, I'd be worried now."
On the show, as ABC before the announcement of Best Picture came to a final commercial break, I saw the salesman John Sloss in a corridor. He was an executive producer of "Green Book", with whom he had to struggle for months with the backlash of the media. "If we win," he said, tapping his foot nervously. "Do not write anything unpleasant!" A few minutes later he was on stage with the rest of the film crew. At the exit Sarandos wore an embarrassed grin. "We have four Oscars!" He exclaimed. "That's what I call good." In the lobby, he hugged Roma star Yalitza Aparicio. "We have fun tonight," he said. Schrader, who had predicted his loss to Green Book weeks ago, wandered by. "You can not keep up with mediocrity," he said, chuckling.
While the viewers at home might have received a relatively brief ceremony with empowering speeches and at least one knockout musical number, the Dolby feelings were mixed. Willem Dafoe, nominated for Best Actor for "At Eternity's Gate" and lost to Rami Malek, rolled his eyes. "Mostly it's not about this stuff," he said. "It comes and goes. And that helps you to protect you.
At the top of the Governors Ball, feelings were between exuberance and indignation. A prominent member of the African-American Academy could not limit his frustration. "It's terrible for all blacks," he said. "Green Book" is a racist movie. "Spike Lee, whose fiery Best Adapted Screenplay speech was the purest moment of the night, hurried past to engrave his Oscar, then headed for the exit." We're going to the Vanity Fair! "He shouted, and he came in one A waiter turned to his colleague, "So, what did Spike Lee win for?" he asked.
That's the way the Oscar bubble goes With all the talk about breaking boundaries and pushing movies into the center of the conversation, the Oscars around the world are simply seeing another award that is not different from the rest. Lee's status goes beyond validation For what goes beyond its borders, the exclusivity of television awards tells only a small portion of the larger history of global cinema.
Photo by Carlos Somonte
Later that night, I was back at Soho House, where Netflix took over the entire first floor. Cuarón was on and off as he drove through the dense party circuit of the night. But the mezcal flowed freely, a Deejay turned up the Mexican tunes, and much of the Roma team – including its stars – stepped on the dance floor. Jenkins and Wang joined in the fun after skipping the governors' ball. There was an authenticity in the room that nothing could replicate in the Dolby.
But the wounds of the evening still hung. The defeated nominee for another film became poetic on "Roma" and lamented his Best Picture snub. "It's a damn beautiful movie," he said. "If America and the Academy can not do it right … Is that pizza?" He ran away, another victim of the superficial delights of the night.