This year's best picture nominees represent an unprecedented sweep of the world, with each one having been set or filmed in a different country: "The Postman (Il Postino)" in Italy, "Babe" in Australia, "Braveheart" in Scotland, "Sense and Sensibility" in England and "Apollo 13" in the United States. So we dispatched correspondents to each site to find out how filming affected the area, how the finished film touched the locals--and who everyone will be rooting for on Monday night.
Visitors to this hamlet of 800, the setting for "Babe," are not likely to see pigs or sheep, but they do learn a few things about the limits of Hollywood magic, even in these days of animatronic animals and computer-generated effects.
The undulating hills, the velvety landscape, the stone fences and the fog suggestive of Scotland are no illusion. Robertson, 85 miles southwest of Sydney, is a cool patch of misty beauty set in the midst of the more typical dry, yellow surrounding countryside.
"It's the town that time forgot," said Gus Murray, who with his wife, Jill, owns the property adjacent to the main "Babe" production site. Indeed, when you step into their kitchen, with its cast-iron stove, beamed ceiling and slate floors, and then look out over the valley where "Babe" was filmed, you feel transported into the timelessness of the Hoggett farmhouse, which was set on two of Jim Mauger's properties, Prospect Farm and Bell Farm.
But Maaa and her flock wouldn't be found here; the high-country rain forest enclave is so wet that it gives sheep foot rot. The land is mostly used for cattle ranching and growing potatoes.
"I was thrilled to find out that they were making this film in Australia; doubly thrilled that it was in Robertson--but I just couldn't believe it, that it was on our property," said Gwen Mauger, Jim's wife.
Prospect Farm is now for sale. Mauger and other property owners in Robertson, a village of 800, have their fingers crossed, hoping "Babe" wins big on Oscar night, which they believe will boost not only the town's spirits but also property values. And residents were thrilled recently when producer George Miller announced he is considering a "Babe" trilogy.
In fact, as "Babe" has gone on to become one of Australia's hugest hits ever, with $200 million in global box office, one of the 48 animal actors who played Babe has already produced a sequel: a litter of piglets.
The last in the line, Babe 48, is suckling her piglets in seclusion at an agricultural high school in the nearby rural center of Bowral. Any attempt to see Babe 48 is fended off by school staff, who wield a pamphlet by producers Kennedy Miller and Universal Pictures instructing them to refuse any queries about "our pig and its relationship with the film character Babe."
Jan Giblin, one of the film's extras, even developed fondness for the animatronic piglets, puppies, sheep, ducks and mice that sometimes filled in for the live animals: "You really couldn't tell they were fake animals--except they had a wire coming out of their backside."
A number of locals got a taste of the reality of Hollywood filmmaking.
"They shot 94 takes for one scene with the duck. People got a little tired," said Dave Handley, part of the local support crew, who has a lawn maintenance company here.
But not everyone in town appreciated the commotion.
"Some people were looked down on for having a role in the film," Handley said. "Some guys mumbled into their beer at the pub that they wouldn't have anything to do with it."
And there was a slight communication problem between the production company and local border-collie breeders.
"They said, 'We want to buy a full litter of pups. We want to shoot them,' " recalled John Causer of Starkad Kennels, who was stunned at the initial request. "Then I asked, 'You want to shoot them, or you want to film them?' " After clarifying their intentions, he agreed to lease a litter of pups.
Mostly, things have gone back to normal here; there are no signs calling attention to Robertson's distinction as the site of "Babe." The only real "Babe" promotion is the advertisement in the regional visitors guide placed by Robertson Butchery, "where you can buy beef which have been raised on Hoggett's Farm, Babe's Own Country."
No official public festivities have been scheduled for Oscar night, though Hope Waters, proprietor of the local general store, speculated there might be a victory gathering at the town's only pub, the Country Inn. She's not sure if she would attend. "I wouldn't go if they're having bacon-and-egg sandwiches."