That headline is a little bit of a clickbait grabber, but no less important.
The superb Australian film Jirga has been submitted by Australia for consideration at the next Academy Awards. What does this mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that Jirga is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar just yet. But, it is one step closer to that possibly happening. If Jirga did get nominated for Best Foreign Language film, it would be the second Australian film in history to be nominated for the award – after the deserving Tanna received Australia’s first nomination in the field.
(Although I’m still a little hurt by the absence of nominations for Ten Canoes and Samson and Delilah.)
How does the nomination process work? Well, it’s a peculiar process. Unlike other Oscars, the film doesn’t need to have had a theatrical run in America to qualify for a nomination. On top of this, the film can’t have been screened on television prior to a theatrical release. Also, the film needs to be in a majority language other than English (some suggestions have been made that, just like the animated film Oscar, the film needs to have at least 75% ‘foreign language’ or ‘animation’ to be considered for those categories).
From 2006, the requirement for the film to be in the official language of the submitting country was scrapped. This allowed films like Tanna to come in for a nomination. Interestingly enough, as the Academy Awards are an American based ceremony, this change didn’t allow American films that were made up of predominantly non-English speaking dialogue. As a further snub to Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States, their films are not eligible for consideration for the award.
Ok, so that’s what makes a film eligible for the award, but again… how are they decided on? Firstly, it’s up to the countries artistic body to decide which film it’s going to put forward. So, for Australia, that would be Screen Australia via a committee of screen professionals who decide what will move up for consideration. Curiously, in Russia, the committee that decides their entry is made up of some 25 filmmakers who all vote on the deciding film. This answers how a hyper-critical film like Loveless manages to secure a nomination.
Once the films are submitted, they then go through a screening process at the Academy’s theatres in Beverly Hills, where they screen for all Southern California-based members from the time that the eligible films are announced to sometime in December. The nomination process used to be a laborious one, with those who volunteered for the role of choosing the next nominees being broken up into different colour groups and being assigned a certain number of films to see. Of those films, they needed to watch at least 65 per cent of them to be eligible to vote on them.
Now that protocol is out the window with a new process having come into play in 2017. This new process is more streamlined, yet no less confusing. With this new process, those Academy members who live in Southern California (a fair amount, really) can attend screenings and vote on the films, provided they watch films that are part of a prescribed “Required Viewing List”, with the Academy stating that members must see each of the films ‘in full or in part’. Members are greatly encouraged to see films outside of their “Required Viewing List”, but to vote, they have to see those films on that list.
Now, the “Required Viewing List” isn’t a list of the ‘ten films that they think will be getting a nomination’. Not at all. Instead, it’s a number of films that they’re given to see. And, with some 87 films vying for a nomination this year, with first time entries from Malawi and Niger, well, one can see how strenuous the process might be.
The nomination process for each category in the Oscars is a curious one, with each having their own quirks that make them, well, unique. If a foreign language film wants to push the boundary and try for other big name awards, then the film needs to have that vital ‘qualifying run’ of seven days in New York and Los Angeles to be up for consideration. This is how films like Amour and Two Days, One Night break through with major category nominations.
And the upcoming Oscar ceremony is going to be a tough one, with many at the Oscar predictor website Gold Derby putting Roma at number one for the Best Picture win. Now, Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white film is already facing an uphill challenge to get nominated for Best Picture. If it does, it’ll join a rare group of films that have garnered a nomination, joining the likes of Grand Illusion, Z, The Emigrants, Cries and Whispers, Il Postino, Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Amour. All films that are worthy of the nomination, and in many cases, worthy of a win (I certainly would have given Grand Illusion the win if I were alive and able to vote for the Academy Awards in 1938). So, not only does Roma need to get nominated, it’s also pushing a difficult battle to win Best Picture.
But, this article isn’t about Best Picture, it’s about the Best Foreign Language Film award. Of which, Australia’s Jirga is on the list of contenders. Roma pretty much has the Best Foreign Language Oscar in the bag already, you can take that to the bank. And part of the reason it’ll win is it has the Netflix edge – sure, folks will see it in the cinema, but around the time that it’s up for voting, it’ll be available right in voters homes on Netflix. Ease of access is key, but then again, so is length.
Jirga is a sub-ninety minute film, and that may make it a more attractive proposition for voters looking to see as many films as possible. It’s certainly a memorable film. But, it’s also competing against highly regarded films like Dogman, Shoplifters, Cold War, Burning, and I Am Not a Witch.
Once the viewing period is over, Academy members vote on the films they they think deserve to be nominated, reducing the long list down to a short list of nine films. Once these nine films are decided, the Academy as a whole get the chance to view them and vote on whether they deserve to be entered into Oscar history as part of an elite five films dubbed the ‘five Best Foreign Language Films’ of the year.
As mentioned, this long process carries across other to other categories as well, with tech categories hosting their own events to make people aware of their work. It’s fascinating to see the way films are decided to become part of Oscar history, and certainly, from an Australian perspective, it’s exciting to know that a film as good as Jirga will get its chance at glory.
To see the other eighty six films up for consideration, head over to the next page, and drop a note in the comments as to who you think will win…
(Oh, and don’t forget to check out the interview with Jirga director Benjamin Gilmour and actor Sam Smith right here.)