Translation Industry News | 02.02.2010

The Oscars 2010 – What will the jury’s verdict be for foreign films?

The Academy is due to announce the nominations for the 2010 Oscars at 1.30 p.m. this afternoon and viewers worldwide will be tuning in to see how foreign language films will fare in this year’s nominations. In the past, this category has been dominated by Western European countries but things are changing on the cinematic landscape as world cinema expands, enabling other nations to make their mark on the global stage. Subtitled films no longer pose a language barrier to cinema-goers, but the question this year is whether The Academy will follow suit.

A gradual change has been happening within The Academy in regard to its representation of foreign language films. For example, in 2008 French actress Marion Cotillard won the prodigious Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for La Vie en Rose – the biopic of singer Edith Piaf. The last time that this happened was in 1962 when Sofia Loren won the same award for her performance in La ciociara – more than 40 years ago!

However, The Academy’s rules for submitting foreign language films are notoriously complicated and restrictive with films having to go through a prior screening process in their country of origin. A country is allowed to submit just one film; this is put to the Oscar board who decide on the long-list of films; which is then narrowed down to the shortlist; and eventually the nominations are made. This year, according to Alt Film Guide, there were 65 entries on the long list for foreign films. And lest we forget the fact that this is not an individual category – the award goes to the country as a whole and not to the producers. This scenario created the situation whereby Italian film producer Federico Fellini picked up a staggering four Oscars in his career, but could never officially claim to have won an Academy Award until he received an Honorary Oscar in 1993 (the year of his death).

Many people believe that an overhaul of this system is in order. Dr Mark Kermode is a British film critic who strongly supports abolishing the ‘Foreign Film’ category and creating a category simply called ‘Best Film’ – a fairer and less divisive system. His equivalent to the ‘foreign language film’ label is ‘films not in the English language’, akin to that of the Cannes Film Festival who use the title ‘World cinema’. He cites another way in which the eligibility process could be simplified: by only setting two requirements – that the film is shown in America and that it is in a foreign language. After all, as the title of the award suggests, it is about the language of the film and not the country in which it is set or produced

An important consideration for non-English language films is film distribution the native country and audience expectation in terms of language transfer methods, i.e. dubbing or subtitling. For example, according to the MEDIA 2007 project, most European countries prefer subtitling to dubbing, but Scandinavian countries are particularly hard hit by this market preference as their cost of subtitling is 66 per cent higher than in the rest of Europe. If the Academy were to overhaul its submission procedure and widen the restrictions for the Best Picture award, it may be a step forward to harmonizing the audio-visual sector throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

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