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The difficult path to a foreign-language film Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences retooled its nomination routine, but the complicated process of receiving one is still an ordeal that some critics say squeezes out good potential Oscar winners.

January 06, 2013|By Mark Olsen

Larrain's movie is one of the numerous films on the shortlist to draw its story from real life, examining the creation of the opposition's advertising campaign before the election in 1988 that ousted Augusto Pinochet as leader of Chile. Starring Gael García Bernal as an adman drawn into the world of politics, "No" was shot using refurbished video cameras from that era to integrate more seamlessly with archival campaign footage.

"That was the biggest challenge, to create a fiction with the tools of documentary so people wouldn't know what they were looking at, if it was archival footage or something we shot," said Larrain. "After a few minutes you are in the story and you stop asking questions about how it was made and what is from where. You just jump into the story."

For the filmmakers of "Kon-Tiki" there was somewhat of the opposite problem, as their film is the story of Thor Heyerdahl's 1947 adventure sailing a raft across the Pacific Ocean, which has been the subject of numerous documentaries. Heyerdahl's own film of the journey, also called "Kon-Tiki," won the Academy Award for documentary, making him the only Norwegian to as of yet win an Oscar.

"We wanted to fill in the gaps," said Espen Sandberg, co-director of the new "Kon-Tiki" with Joachim Rønning. "Heyerdahl was more interested in science, but his film isn't so popular because people are so interested in migration patterns, it's because this is a great adventure. It's thrilling to ask yourself if you would dare to do that. And we want to tell that part of the story."

Though it remains to be seen how the final nominations shake out, it is perhaps hard for filmmakers and distributors not to feel that in this year's competition there is the much-lauded "Amour," perhaps to a lesser degree the popular hit "The Intouchables" and then there is everything else.

"Amour" is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which has won the foreign-language film category three years running and five of the last six. With the expectation of possible nominations in other categories for "Amour," maybe even best picture, the common perception is almost that the foreign-language film prize is a given.

"The real story is what the Weinsteins or Adopt Films or IFC or the other distributors do in the face of this inexplicable manifest avalanche of 'Amour' is going to win no matter what,'" noted Lipsky. "If we're fortunate enough to be nominated, to be one of the five, what do we do?"


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