On September 22, 2017, the Film Federation of India selected a political satire, Newton, directed by Amit Masurkar, as India’s official entry to the Foreign Language Film category of the 90th Academy Awards. The film, starring Rajkummar Rao in the titular role, is about a young government clerk who is determined to conduct fair elections in the tumultuous forest region of Chhattisgarh where insurgency issues are rampant.
The film released at around 300 screens in India on September 22, the same Friday the Oscar selection was announced.
Newton premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year, and there, it won the CICAE (International Confederation of Art Cinemas) award for best film in the Forum segment. It also won the Jury Award for Young Cinema at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in April, and was nominated for a Jury Award at the Tribeca Film Festival for Best International Narrative Feature.
Bringing home the Oscar is not, by any means, an easy task. It is not just the film’s quality that decides its fate, but the way the country and the film’s makers market the film at the Oscars and the film festivals that precede it – a mission that involves a large amount of hard work and money.
For instance, Denmark, a country which makes less than 20 films a year, has made it to the final five 11 times, and won thrice.
According to Steffen Andersen-Møller, the head of department for audiences and promotion at the Danish Film Institute, it’s about how hard you push the film to a global audience. “It’s all part of a long-term international business model. We have been very active at international film festivals like Toronto, Cannes and Berlin, and we use the festivals as effectively as we can to get our films noticed,” he recently explained in an interview.
In 2016, India sent Court, a satire on Indian judiciary, directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, to the Oscars. It had won the Best Film Award at the 62nd National Film Awards of India, and had been to over 13 international film festivals across the world where it won several awards including the Best Film Award in Horizon category at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival. However, Court lost the battle in the initial selection round itself. That year, Hungary’s dark and gritty Holocaust drama, Son Of Saul picked up the Oscar in the Foreign Language Films category.
In 2017, Visaranai, a dark, visceral Tamil film directed by Vetrimaaran was sent to the Oscars as India’s nomination. It didn’t stand a chance among the long list of high-profile films such as Desierto, a violent thriller on immigration and the border crisis, co-produced by Alphonso Cuaron, and The Sales Man, an intelligent Iranian drama on crime and vengeance helmed by the celebrated director Asghar Farhadi. The latter, which was a favourite film at all the festivals it toured that year, won the Oscar.
The Oscars selection process
First, the Academy members of the Foreign-Language Film screening committee are divided into groups. Over two months, ending mid-December, they watch and rate films. The top six films, plus three films chosen by the 20-member executive committee, make it to the next round.
In early January, the nine semi-finalists are screened for the committee members, who then vote for the final five.
On January 24, the finalists are revealed, along with finalists in other categories.
The Academy members watch these five films and vote for the winner, which is announced on February 26, Oscar night.
With a lengthy, three-stage scrutiny process to select the winner, the publicity campaign becomes all the more important. First, six of the nominated films are proposed by Academy members and another three by expert advisory panels, who may not be Academy members. Of the nine films, five nominees are short-listed by a Foreign Language Film executive committee. The final voting is done by a special committee of 750. A campaign has to be built around the film to draw maximum number of Academy members to the screenings.
Source: Silver Screen