I attended the Oscars and discovered the problem with the film industry


Throughout the weekend of the Oscars and the show, IndieWire understood why globalization was not enough to eliminate the prejudices of films in foreign languages.

The Oscars sometimes measure the value of true artistic achievements, but attending the ceremony always gives a closer look at how the Oscars can spoil the minds of the most intelligent artists. This year has not been different, but it has also highlighted a deeper frustration with the system.

Standing in the lobby of the Dolby Theater, I watched tuxedos cross the crowded room. Some dizzying figures celebrated the victory of the "Green Paper" in the Best Film category, but all the other people in this half-moon exit march were disappointed by the missed opportunity to attribute to "Roma" – a very unorthodox candidate in the category Best film, and another not far from history, first non-English winner of the category.

I spotted a top Spanish-speaking actor in the crowd. "It's sad," he said. "The support was there, but in the end, it must be thought that it is a foreign film. So they wanted an American movie. "He sighed. "But give it to 'The Favorite' or something like that, why this crap bullshit?"

It was the "green book", of course, the craze for a white man driving a black man into the racist American Deep South of the 1960s. The film apparently pleased a broader contingency, but his approach to vanilla racial relations, filtered through the eyes of a white man on both sides of the camera, recorded as a repudiation of "Rom" Alfonso Cuarón, in which a native Mexican woman is the centerpiece of 39, a movie. an intimate ode to domestic workers in the country. The boundaries of the traditional Oscar bait have remained intact.

Yet, the night has not been a total loss in this regard. "Hey," said the actor, "at least Alfonso has had three Oscars."

Cuarón's trio of wins for cinematography, the foreign language film and the director have provided him with many opportunities to celebrate. The victory of "Roma" made him the first director to become his own director of photography and the first prize for making a non-English film.

Netflix has spent a fortune pushing "Roma" into Oscar-winning heavyweight status, and while many industrial factors have played against them – an anti-Netflix bias on the part of those who denigrate his minimal theatrical support, Demographics of a Diversifying Academy Still Dominated by Whites – The Merchandising of an Art Film Has Its Limits. The unprecedented international reach of Netflix has opposed the stigma that relegates non-English films to smaller categories. In the end, however, the "green book" beating "the Roma" has provided a microcosmic glimpse of the contradictory forces of globalization: even Netflix still has a long way to go to resolve this tension.

The night before the big party, I spent the evening at Soho House in West Hollywood, with an Oscar winner in foreign languages ​​who would lose 24 hours later. Talal Derki, the Berlin-based Syrian director, risked his life to make "Fathers and Sons", one of the most extraordinary films in the Oscar race this year. Derki claimed to be a war photographer sensitive to religious extremism and encrusted himself in a jihadist sniper, capturing the man's affection for his children as he prepared them for a training camp. terrorist. "I'm not going for easy movies," he said.

"Fathers and sons"

Kino Lorber

It was a euphemism: "Of Fathers and Sons" won the Jury Grand Prix at Sundance last year and lauded critics, but ended the festival without distribution. One producer stated that Netflix showed no interest in the project; The team shared a link on the Cinando streaming platform, where it could see the data from the viewer, and noted that a Netflix representative had turned off the movie after 15 minutes. The streaming platform has made great strides to turn "Roma" into bait for Oscar, but the prospects for an intimate portrait of Middle Eastern terrorists – a brilliant gamble for cinema – were too risky.

The most daring films remain more than ever marginalized. "Of Fathers and Sons" finally landed at Kino Lorber, the New York-based distributor of foreign language films. Long before Netflix caught the Oscars virus, Kino introduced a series of daring works in the race, dating back to the dystopian thriller of Yorgos Lanthimos' family, "Dogtooth" in 2009; the company had won seven nominations for foreign films in nine years.

However, Kino had trouble booking Derki's movie in New York theaters; like Netflix, the company was reluctant to take that risk. The film was eventually screened at the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, where it raised $ 12,000. Although I was missed until last week, I was so surprised that I immediately concluded that it would have made my list of top 10 in December. After his Oscar nomination, the film gained momentum on iTunes.

At Soho House, Richard Lorber, CEO of Kino Lorber, gave a complete picture of Netflix's $ 25 million "Roma" campaign. The question is whether one of its potential gains would indicate an expansion of the potential of films in foreign languages. "What would have A turning point would be that they spend 50% of their budget in Oscars to buy 25 foreign films, "he said. "They could buy them from me. They are not. I have other films that are as good or better, but they are not part of the foreign language sector. They made a world crusade with 'Roma'.

He shrugged. "Look, I'm doing business with Netflix, they're fine for me and I respect their work," he said. "But the fact that they promoted this wonderful Mexican steroids movie distorts the reality of what the public expects from Netflix and what Netflix will do to really support world cinema."

The limitations of Netflix tell only part of the story. In the bubble of the universe of Oscars, considerable efforts were made to extend the scope of films in foreign languages. Some 700 Academy volunteers coordinate the selection of submissions in foreign languages, reducing the number of candidates from 87 to nine preselected titles to the five proposed candidates. Meredith Shea, Associate Director of the Academy, also oversees efforts to educate voters that they can vote for these films from other categories. This year, the Polish drama "Cold War" was awarded by director Pawel Pawlikowski, nominated for the cinematography, while the Swedish fantasy "Border" (one of the main candidates this year) was awarded by Makeup and Hair Nomination.

Barry Jenkins speaks at the reception of foreign language candidates at the 91st Academy Awards at LACMA, Los Angeles91st Academy Awards - Reception of candidates in foreign languages ​​in Los Angeles, USA - February 22, 2019

Barry Jenkins speaks at the reception of foreign language candidates at the 91st Academy Awards at LACMA in Los Angeles

Willy Sanjuan / Invision / AP / REX / Shutterstock

At a cocktail party organized by the Academy for foreign language candidates on Friday, Barry Jenkins presented a certificate of nomination to Japanese candidate Hirokazu Kore-eda, the Japanese director whose "Thieves on display "have won the Palme d'Or in Cannes. These are inspired choices: Jenkins' "Moonlight" and "If Beale Could Speak" embody the potential to go beyond the traditional boundaries of American cinema, directing directors from Claire Denis (France) to Wong Kar-Wai ( Hong Kong) to a new representation African-American identity.

Jenkins, who has just returned from Japan to promote "If Beale Street Could Speak," spoke of Kore-eda's discovery of "Still Walking" at the Mar Del Plata Film Festival. "I felt exposed to a culture that seemed totally foreign to me," he told the microphone.

His girlfriend, director Lulu Wang, hovered nearby. A little more than a month earlier, his first production, "The Farewell", was presented at Sundance to elicit critical acclaim and be distributed with A24, which is scheduled for release this summer. Wang's film is based on his own experience of visiting his sick grandmother in China, with Awkwafina in the lead role. Although half the film is in Mandarin, "The Farewell" was featured at the Sundance American drama competition; it traces an American-Asian experience and offers a chance to avoid the ghettoisation of foreign language identity. "Hopefully, with the release of" Roma ", we will no longer have this issue around subtitles," she said.

"L & # 39; goodbye"


No one has tackled this riddle more than Cuarón himself. When he received his own nomination certificate from Ava DuVernay, he struck a note that he repeated throughout the weekend, talking about the relevance of foreign language films during his childhood in Mexico. "Films like" The Godfather ", movies like" Raging Bull ", movies like" Jaws, "he said." All of these "foreign language" movies & # 39; that we looked at when we were kids. "He raised his eyebrows as the goal sank in." Claude Chabrol once said, when asked about the New Wave, that he was not sure what to do. there are no waves, there is only the ocean, "he said." And I think all these nominated films show that the human experience is part of from the same ocean.The particular beach of this movie was Mexico. "

Pawlikowski, whose "cold war" progressed in the same way by separating himself from major categories, acknowledged this challenge when he took the stage. "It's great that he traveled that far," he said. "I mean, black and white film in Polish, subtitles, with gaps in the story, which ends in suicide. My God! He looked tired. "I'm delighted that everything is about to end, this whole Oscars affair," he said. "It's more difficult than making movies. I spent four or five months doing it and you have all that money, all this fuss, all these commercials. It's a little crazy.

When the German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck accepted his certificate for "Never Look Away", he thanked the distributor Sony Pictures Classics, but nailed on a chorus. "You brought us this first Academy Award," he said, referring to his 2006 victory in "The lives of others" and "even if it goes to Alfonso, we are always happy because we are going to see it well. "

Sony Pictures Classics, which also distributed the Lebanese candidacy "Capernaum", has excelled for a generation in the Oscar game in foreign languages. But with the "Roma" in the limelight, company co-chairs Michael Barker and Tom Bernard had less to celebrate. While Cuarón was addressing the adoring crowd, Bernard murmured in a breath and grabbed a handful of French fries at the buffet.

The next day, at an outdoor brunch before the Independent Spirit Awards in Venice Beach, he clarified his dismay. "What will happen if" Roma "wins?", He said. "I do not think that will change anything unless someone wants to put the resources of another movie to the extent that he did." He rejected the idea that this could catalyze a greater appetite for foreign language cinema. . "I wish," he said. "I watch the box office figures in theaters."

But "Roma", which has found a global audience, could not it exceed these parameters of success? "I do not think so," said Bernard. "They are only monetized by subscriptions. Each film has a different program for their expenses. Some studios want their stars to be recognized. Independent companies as we use it to monetize the campaign and get this type of advertising. So, there is no schema. That's what each person does and money is king. The guy who spends most usually wins. That's how much you want to spend, what is your agenda and whether it makes it profitable or not. Netflix's expenses are certainly a profit expense. I do not think it's good or bad. That's just what it is. "

Alfonso Cuaron - Best International Film - Roma & # 39; (Mexico) 34th Film Independent Spirit Awards, Press Room, Los Angeles, USA - February 23, 2019

Alfonso Cuaron at the Independent Spirit Awards

Rob Latour / REX / Shutterstock

In the Spirit Awards tent, Netflix content manager, Ted Sarandos, made his case in front of the "Roma" table, which would finally win the award for best foreign film at the ceremony. He was surprised to talk about the competition of the upcoming streaming platform this fall. "Disney, Warner Brothers, they are in the same boat as us," he said, but declined to say. Host Aubrey Plaza came on stage and turned the internationalization of the film industry into a force line, with John Waters taking charge of food and showing the image of the beach outside. "China, I see you … destroy what was once a cinema of art and test!"

During a commercial break, Peter Kujalski, CEO of Focus Features, rejected the idea that "Roma" only divide many categories because of the deep pockets of Netflix. "I do not buy it," he said. "If you spend a lot of money on a crappy movie, it would not be so good."

The results of the next day were mixed – "Roma" won the respect of the Academy, but "Green Book" allowed the familiarity to dominate. Even my Lyft driver at the ceremony, a middle-aged white woman, chose the "Green Book" as a favorite favorite. "Many people do not know what happened at the time," she said. "I'm old enough to know." I mentioned that Mahershala Ali was a Favorite of Best Supporting Actor. "Is this the black guy?" She asked.

Returning to the ceremony, I met Diego Luna, who praised his performance in Netflix's "Narcos", which comes in a mix of English and Spanish. He recently took a break from the show's promotion to attend Ambulante, the Mexican documentary festival that he co-founded with Gael Garcia Bernal, but lamented the lack of government support for the project. I suggested that he might want to talk to Netflix. "Perhaps!" He said, and burst out laughing. "It's all about Netflix now."

At the bar, Paul Schrader – nominated for Best Original Screenplay for "First Reformed" – seemed even more ostracized than the aliens in the room. (With "First Reformed," he channeled the traditions of the transcendental cinema that inspired him in his youth, none of them from the United States.) "I made it in m & rsquo; Sitting I did not want to be here "he said, remembering that when he attended the" taxi driver "ceremony, he came out halfway.

After the documentary category was announced and the "Free Solo" climbing saga grabbed the prize, the director of "Of Fathers and Sons", Derki, also went to the bar. "I'm disappointed," he said. "I had hoped it would be" RGB "because it would mean something, or maybe" Minding the Gap ", but it had been abandoning its own perspectives for a long time." By late afternoon, this only appears on your resume, "he said, but Derki himself was tired of producing work in the margins, signed with UTA and planned to make a narrative feature film in English." I do not want to war movies now, "he said." I want to do something more for us, to be human. "

"Green Paper"

After Cuarón won some victories, Sarandos also announced that the platform had sparked growing interest in foreign language films. He rejected the idea that the status of director on the list A Cuarón was for something. "It's for quality," he said. "We do not always know who these filmmakers are." A few minutes later, "Green Book" won the award for Best Original Screenplay, and the atmosphere changed. Netflix price consultant Lisa Taback stood up to poker but said, "If I knew everything, I would be worried right now."

Inside the series, as ABC was making its last commercial break before Best Picture was announced, I spotted Sales Representative John Sloss in an alley. An executive producer on "Green Book", he fought for several months in the film. "If we win," he said, tapping his foot nervously, "do not write anything nasty!" A few minutes later he was on the scene with the rest of the film crew. At the exit, Sarandos smiled sheepishly. "We have four Oscars!" He exclaimed. "I call it good." In the lobby, he kissed the star of "Roma," Yalitza Aparicio. "Tonight we are having fun," he said. Schrader, who predicted his loss to "Green Book" a few weeks ago, has erred. "You can not compete with mediocrity," he said.

While home viewers were able to attend a relatively concise ceremony of stimulating speeches and at least one musical KO number, Dolby's emotions were mixed. Willem Dafoe, nominated for Best Actor in "At Eternity's Gate" and lost to Rami Malek, rolled his eyes. "Most of the time, it's not about that kind of thing," he said. "It comes and goes. And it helps protect you.

Upstairs, at the Governors' Ball, feelings ranged from exuberance to indignation. A prominent member of the Afro-American Academy could not contain his frustrations. "It's terrible for all blacks," he said. "Green Book" is a racist film. Spike Lee, whose flamboyant Best Match screenplay was the purest moment of the night, moved quickly to earn his Oscar, and headed for the exit, "We're going to Vanity Fair!" He shouted past a crowd of event employees in a narrow hallway, and they burst out in applause as a waiter turned to his peer. what did Spike Lee win? "he asked.

So, that goes with the Oscar bubble. Despite all the talk of border crossing and placing films at the center of the debate, much of the world is simply viewing the Oscars as another series of indistinguishable awards. Lee's status goes beyond any validation that an Oscar might provide. The exclusivity of the televised prices represents only a small piece of the great history that is the world cinema.

(From left to right) Marco Graf as Pepe, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Photo by Carlos Somonte


Photo by Carlos Somonte

Later that night, I went back to Soho House, where Netflix took over the entire top floor. Cuarón made comings and goings as he sailed in the dense circuit of the night. But the mezcal went down, a deejay went up the tunes and a large part of the Roma team – including its stars – came on the track. Jenkins and Wang joined the party after attending the Governors' Ball. There was an authenticity in the room that nothing in Dolby could reproduce.

But the wounds of the evening still persisted. The losing nominee for another movie made a splash on "Roma" and complained about his best film. "It's a fucking beautiful movie," he said. "If America and the Academy can not be right … is it a pizza?" He escaped, a victim more of the more superficial pleasures of the night.

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