LA film festival puts focus on foreign Oscar race

Actors Gaspard Ulliel (L) and Aymeline Valade (R) pose at a special screening of "Saint Laurent" during AFI Fest 2014 in Hollywood, California November 11, 2014.

Actors Gaspard Ulliel (L) and Aymeline Valade (R) pose at a special screening of “Saint Laurent” during AFI Fest 2014 in Hollywood, California November 11, 2014.

LOS ANGELES: Hollywood’s A-listers gathered in Los Angeles for a film festival that may not be well known but nonetheless shines an early spotlight on awards season, in particular the foreign Oscar race.

The American Film Institute (AFI) festival, which wound up recently, has seen directors from Canada, France and Belgium turning out to woo potential Oscars voters with latest films, three months before the biggest show in Tinseltown.

“It is a festival in the capital of cinema, and where can you find the most Academy members? In Los Angeles,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University in New York state.

Bertrand Bonello, director of France’s candidate for foreign film Oscar, said winning Hollywood’s top prize “takes a film even further in terms of economics and visibility.”

Bonello presented “Saint Laurent” at the AFI festival, along with actor Gaspard Ulliel, who plays iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and actress-model Aymeline Valade, who plays his muse Betty Catroux.

“People in the business tell me this is where you get the largest number of voters” in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which organizes the Oscars, Valade told AFP.

“Even more than in the New York festivals,” she added.

Competing for the Oscars requires “slightly more aggressive promotion, where you meet not only journalists, but also voters,” added Bonello. Belgium’s candidate film is “Deux jours, une nuit” (“Two Days, One Night”), by the Cannes-winning Dardenne brothers, starring Marion Cotillard.

It was also presented this week, at the start of the festival that opened on Nov. 6.

Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne also attended last weekend’s Governors Awards, where half of Hollywood turned out for an Academy-hosted evening honoring industry icons but also, doubtless, talking about awards season buzz.

Canada’s film “Mommy,” by wunderkind director Xavier Dolan, was recognized with a screening at the landmark Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard recently.

“Il capitale umano” (“Human Capital”) by Italy’s Paolo Virzi, chosen as Italy’s candidate for the foreign film Oscar, was also on the AFI festival program.

“The real lobbying campaign only starts when you get down to the last five,” said Valade.

Indeed, it is still early in the race for Hollywood’s top honors.

This year a record 83 countries nominated films for the foreign Oscar race, including four competing for the first time: Kosovo, Malta, Mauritania and Panama.

“Ye Ying” (“The Nightingale”) by French director Philippe Muyl, filmed in China in Mandarin and French with Chinese actors, is Beijing’s candidate this year.

A shortlist of about 10 foreign films will be announced next month, and cut down to the final five when nominations for all categories are announced on Jan. 15. The Oscars are on Feb. 22.

The foreign film Oscar this year went to Italian Paolo Sorrentino’s “La Grande Bellezza” (“The Great Beauty”).

Pop professor Thompson said that in the past few people saw foreign film Oscar nominees because they were only in a few theaters. But that has changed with technology and streaming distribution.

“Until recently these movies didn’t get a lot of attention and people didn’t have the opportunity to see them,” he told AFP.

“Now, if you live in a small town in Oklahoma, you still can see these movies through video on demand, the Internet, Netflix, etc,” he said, adding that the eventual foreign film Oscar winner could seriously cash in.

The top prize “has become more important because of the distribution opportunity… even if only a small percentage of the audience sees the movie, it can have a real economic impact,” said Thompson.


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