International Oscar Race: Pakistan Submits Cannes Title ‘In Flames’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Pakistan: “In Flames”

Zarrar Kahn’s horror film “In Flames” is Pakistan’s entry for the international feature Oscar. The film debuted at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight earlier this year.

In the Karachi-set film, after the death of the family patriarch, a mother and daughter’s precarious existence is ripped apart by figures from their past – both real and phantasmal. They must find strength in each other if they are to survive the malevolent forces that threaten to engulf them.

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The film, produced by Anam Abbas and executive produced by Shant Joshi, Todd Brown and Maxime Cottray, is part of XYZ’s New Visions slateAs revealed by Variety, XYZ had boarded the title last year.

“‘In Flames’ has resonated profoundly with our committee members, as it beautifully encapsulates the essence of our culture, art, and cinematic craftsmanship. We believe that the narrative, performances, direction, and every element that went into the making of your film make it the perfect candidate to represent the best of Pakistani cinema on a global platform,” Mohammed Ali Naqvi, chair, Pakistani Academy Selection Committee, told Variety.

“I’m deeply honored that our film has been recognized by Pakistan’s Oscar committee. We’re currently self-distributing the film in Pakistan, as despite clearance from the local censor board, we were considered too controversial by local distributors – so we’re doing it ourselves. The response from Pakistani audiences has been rapturous – and we’re just grateful to be able to show the film in the city it was made in. ‘In Flames’ offers rare representation, both behind and in front of the camera, and through the resilience of our team the film continues to find its audience. In a year of incredible global cinema, ‘In Flames’ has stood with giants, and found acclaim from Cannes, TIFF, Sitges, Busan to Red Sea,” Kahn said.

“‘In Flames’ is an urgent call-to-action, exposing the brutality of the patriarchy and the power of community. In today’s divided world, it offers solace to the oppressed – and tells them that hope can never be extinguished,” Kahn added.

XYZ has sold the film to Canada (Game Theory), U.K. (Blue Finch) and Scandinavia (Nonstop) and France (Jokers) among several other territories.

Pakistan has been submitting to the category since 1959. “Joyland” (2022) was shortlisted.

All submissions and materials for the 2023 race had to be received by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences by 5 p.m. on Oct. 2. And films must meet all the qualifying conditions between Dec. 1, 2022, and Oct. 31, 2023. A shortlist of 15 will be announced on Dec. 21. Final nominees will be announced on Jan. 23, 2024. The 96th Academy Awards is set to take place on March 10, 2024.

Nigeria: “Mami Wata”

The Nigeria Official Selection Committee has submitted CJ Obasi’s “Mami Wata” for the international feature Oscar.

The film world premiered at Sundance Film Festival in its World Cinema — Dramatic section, where it won the cinematography prize. Set in the remote West African village of Iyi, the film follows the villagers who worship the Mermaid-deity Mami Wata and look for guidance from their healer Mama Efe, her daughter Zinwe and protégé Prisca.

“Mami Wata” is set to release in Germany and Austria on Jan. 11 and Nov. 17 in the U.K. It has already been released in Nigeria, Switzerland and North America.

Ireland: “In the Shadow of Beirut”

The Irish Film and Television Academy has selected Lebanon-set, primarily Arabic-language feature documentary “In the Shadow of Beirut,” executive produced by Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and Siobhan Sinnerton for HiddenLight Productions, as its entry to the best international feature film section of the Academy Awards.

The film is a cinematic portrait of modern-day Lebanon as seen through the eyes of four families living in the impoverished Sabra and Shatila neighborhoods of the city, the scene of an infamous massacre in 1982. It filmed over four years with unique access to the families within these largely restricted areas and is co-directed by Stephen Gerard Kelly, in his debut, and Garry Keane (Sundance selection “Gaza,” 2019).

It was selected by IFTA’s 2023 selection committee, including filmmaker Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot”), producer Brian Falconer (“Derry Girls”), actor Cathy Belton (“Philomena”), writer-director Frank Berry (“Michael Inside”) and media executive Muirne Laffan.

The film premiered at New Zealand’s Doc Edge Festival where it won several awards.

IFTA Academy CEO, Áine Moriarty said: “This is such an important film for a global audience to connect with. This raw storytelling on screen is delivered with such heart-breaking honesty. Stephen has been trusted to bring us up close and personal into the lives of these families, who are full of love as they try to live and survive, with the question of hope and human resilience at its core.”

The film is a co-production of Leonine Studios’ Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion, Cyprus Avenue Films, Abbout Productions, Hidden Light and ZDF, in association with Arte, and with the support of Screen Ireland.

Ireland has been submitting to the category since 2007. “Viva” was shortlisted in 2015 and last year “The Quiet Girl” scored a nomination. It has yet to win the category.

Dir: Stephen Gerard Kelly, Garry Keane

Malaysia: “Tiger Stripes”

“Tiger Stripes,” a film that is partly a girl’s coming-of-age drama and partly a body horror picture, has been selected to represent Malaysia in the best international feature film section of the Academy Awards.

The film had its debut in the Critics’ Week section of the Cannes film festival in May and was directed by first-time feature filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu.

The announcement was made on Thursday by Malaysia’s Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil following selection by the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS).

The film was a eight-way coproduction involving companies from Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Indonesia and Qatar, and emerged from a succession of labs, project markets and international funds.

Since winning the Grand Prix at the Critics’ Week, “Tiger Stripes” has been a popular choice on the festival circuit, with stops so far at Neufchatel, The Hamptons, Sitges, London, Fantasia, Taipei and next week’s Pingyao events.

Dir. Amanda Nell Eu. International sales: Films Boutique.

Argentina: “The Delinquents

Argentina, the South American country with the best Academy Awards history, has chosen as its Academy Awards submission “The Delinquents,” Rodrigo Moreno’s incorrigibly playful heist movie, which world premiered at Cannes Un Certain Regard, delighting critics.

Moreno first caught attention with 2006’s “The Custodian,” which won an Alfred Bauer Prize for innovation at the Berlinale, turning on a bodyguard who is nearly invisible to his government minister client, until he snaps.

“The Delinquents’” rebellion against workplace invisibility and deadening routine is far more fun, comes far earlier and, as a Variety review notes, is echoed in the film’s equal abandonment of convention.

In it, a bank worker, Morán, steals wads of cash from his bank, in full view of a camera, persuading a similarly anonymous co-worker to hide the loot while he serves time.

“A deliciously bizarre existential heist movie,” Variety wrote in its review, “The Delinquents” appeal was noted before Cannes when Magnolia Pictures International alighted on world sales. After the premiere, MUBI moved smartly to take rights in North America, U.K., Italy, Latin America, Turkey, India and Benelux.

“The Delinquents” is produced by Ezequiel Borovinsky of Wanka Cine (Argentina) and co-produced by Les Films Fauves (Luxembourg), Sancho&Punta (Brazil), Jirafa Films (Chile), Jaque (Argentina) and Rizoma (Argentina).

Dir: Rodrigo Moreno Sales: Magnolia Pictures International

Philippines: “The Missing”

The Philippines has selected animated drama film “The Missing” (aka “Iti Mapukpukaw”) as its contender for the Academy Awards best international feature.

The film tells the story of a gay animator who strangely does not have a mouth called on by his family to check up on a missing uncle. After he discovers that the uncle is already dead the young man encounters a strangely familiar alien who helps him untangle his memories and his feelings.

Directed by Carl Joseph E. Papa, who has previously made “The Unforgetting” and “Paglisan,” “The Missing” debuted at the Cinemalaya festival in August. There, Papa won the Balanghai Trophy for making the best film and “Triangle of Sadness” star Dolly de Leon, who features in the film’s voice cast, was nominated as best supporting actress.

The production received funding from the Cinemalaya Foundation, a trio of government agencies in the Philippines and from Thai financier Purin Pictures.

Dir: Carl Joseph E. Papa

Mexico: “Totem”

Mexico has selected “Totem,” written and directed by Lila Avilés (“The Chambermaid”) as the country’s candidate for best international feature at the Academy Awards.

The film follows seven-year-old Sol who spends the day at her grandfather’s home, helping her aunts Nuri and Alejandra with the preparations for a surprise party they are throwing for her father, Tonatiuh. As daylight fades, a strange and chaotic atmosphere takes over, shattering the bonds that hold the family together.

“It gives us a chance to reflect on mortality and the way we struggle to understand and accept it,” Variety critic Peter Debruge said in his review of the film.

“Totem” bowed at Berlin where it won the Ecumenical Jury Prize. It has played Telluride and New Directors/New Films and will next play at the BFI London Film Festival and San Sebastian Film Festival. It has won several more awards, including at the Bucharest, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Jerusalem film festivals.

The film is produced by Tatiana Graullera, Lila Avilés and Louise Riousse. It introduces the young actor Naíma Sentíes in her first role and also stars Montserrat Marañon, Marisol Gasê, Saori Gurza, Mateo García Elizondo, Teresita Sánchez, Francisco Maldonado, Iazua Larios and Alberto Amador.

Sideshow and Janus Films will release the film theatrically in the U.S. following fall festivals.

Dir: Lila Avilés Sales: Alpha Violet

Jordan: “Inshallah a Boy”

Jordan has selected Amjad Al-Rasheed’s drama “Inshallah a Boy,” which explores the Arab world’s archaic patriarchal inheritance laws, as its entry in the Academy Awards’ best international feature category.

In the Jordan-set film, Nawal (Mouna Hawa) finds out after her husband’s sudden death that since she “only” gave birth to a daughter, according to local inheritance law his family might be entitled to everything she owns, including her home. Out of options, she pretends to be pregnant again.

Nawal’s story was inspired by Al Rasheed’s own relative, who found herself in a very similar predicament after having dedicated her whole life to her family.

“Inshallah a Boy,” which is Al-Rasheed’s feature film debut, is the first film from Jordan to launch from the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered in the Cannes’ Critics Week.

The film was produced by Rula Nasser and Aseel Abu Ayyash for Imaginarium Film, co-produced by Nicolas Lepretre and Raphaël Alexandre for Georges Film and Yousef Abed Alnabi for Bayt Al Shawareb.

Greenwich Entertainment took North American distribution rights to the film ahead of its North American premiere at TIFF earlier this month.

Dir. Amjad Al-Rasheed Intl. Sales: Pyramide International

Singapore: “The Breaking Ice”

Singaporean director Anthony Chen’s “The Breaking Ice” has been selected by the Singapore Film Commission as the country’s entry to the 96th Academy Awards in 2024, in the international film category.

Filmed in China, film follows the blossoming friendship of its three main characters as they discover warmth in their shared isolation over a weekend in the winter snow. It stars Chinese actors Zhou Dongyu (the Oscar-nominated “Better Days”), Liu Haoran (the “Detective Chinatown” franchise) and Qu Chuxiao (“The Wandering Earth”).

“The Breaking Ice” bowed earlier this year at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard strand.

This is the third time a film directed by Chen is representing Singapore at the Oscars after Cannes Camera d’Or award winner “Ilo Ilo” and “Wet Season.” Last year, “Ajoomma,” the first-ever Singapore-Korea co-production, directed by He Shuming and produced by Chen was submitted as Singapore’s entry.

The film is being distributed in North America by Strand Releasing with international sales handled by Rediance. Chen wrote and directed the film and produced it with Meng Xie under their Canopy Pictures banner. The film was released in cinemas in Singapore earlier this month via Golden Village Pictures and is currently still showing in cinemas in mainland China where it opened in August.

Justin Ang, assistant chief executive of media, innovation, communications and marketing, at Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority, said: “We are absolutely thrilled by the selection of Anthony Chen’s film, ‘The Breaking Ice,’ as Singapore’s entry for 2024’s Oscars. Together with other made-with-Singapore premieres winning awards at the Cannes Film Festival this year, films such as ‘The Breaking Ice’ put Singapore on the global filmmaking map. With the Singapore Film Commission commemorating 25 years of dedication in nurturing our vibrant local film industry, we are truly proud of our passionate homegrown talent who have found recognition on the world stage. We look forward to hearing good news at the 2024’s Oscars.”

Chen added: “It is an honor once again to be selected as Singapore’s Oscar submission and also even more meaningful in a year when I have been invited into The Academy. This film wouldn’t have been possible without the creative talents and passion of our very international team. I look forward to sharing this film with audiences in the States and around the world.”

Dir: Anthony Chen. Sales: Rediance

Venezuela: “The Shadow of the Sun” (“La Sombra del Sol”)

Venezuela has selected sibling drama “La Sombra del Sol” by LA-based Venezuelan filmmaker Miguel Ángel Ferrer as its official entry to the 96th Academy Awards’ Best International Film category.

Ferrer’s feature debut was selected by Venezuela’s National Association of Cinematographic Authors (ANAC) over other contenders, citing “its performances as well as the cultural imagery it represents.” “It is a film about characters that narrates a Venezuelan context that invites one to dream while maintaining a very unique tone of magical realism,” it added.

Set in rural Venezuela, it turns on Alex, a young deaf teen who asks his estranged older brother Leo to join him in a talent contest that could change their lives. Leo will dust off his long dormant musical skills to be his younger brother’s voice.

“We want to express our thanks to the Oscar commission for choosing our film, which is about the story of Leo and Alex, two brothers who represent the struggle for a seemingly unattainable dream. Like them, this is another step in our journey. ‘La Sombra del Sol’ is a film from Venezuela, for Venezuela, and for the world, filmed with local talent in the beautiful town of Acarigua, in the state of Portuguesa,” said Ferrer.

“La Sombra del Sol” will have a limited release on Oct. 5 in Caracas at the Centro Cultural Trasnocho and in December in the rest of the country. Currently, the film is on a festival circuit run following its world premiere at the Los Angeles Latino Int’l Film Festival and winning five awards, including the Press Award for Best Feature, at the Venezuelan Film Festival in Mérida. It is next screening in Mexico’s Monterrey International Film Festival and the AFI Silverscreen in Washington DC, among other events.

Dir: Miguel Ángel Ferrer. Venezuelan Distributor: MundoDPelícula

North Macedonia: “Housekeeping for Beginners”

Housekeeping for Beginners,” Goran Stolevski’s drama which won the Queer Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, has been selected by North Macedonia as its official Oscar entry for international feature film race.

Focus is distributing the film in the U.S. with Universal Pictures handling international distribution (excluding Eastern Europe). “Housekeeping for Beginners” reteams Focus Features with the critically acclaimed Macedonian-Australian director following “You Won’t Be Alone,” which premiered at Sundance in 2022 and represented Australia in the Oscar race, and “Of an Age,” which kicked off Melbourne festival.

“Housekeeping for Beginners” stars Anamaria Marinca (“4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) as Dita, a queer woman who never wanted to be a mother and finds herself forced to her to raise her girlfriend’s two rebellious daughters, Mia and Vanesa. A battle of wills ensues as the three continue to butt heads and become an unlikely family that must fight to stay together. The cast is completed by Alina Serban, Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Mia Mustafa, Dzada Selim, Sara Klimoska, Rozafë Çelaj, Ajse Useini.

Represented in international markets by New Europe Film Sales, “Housekeeping for Beginners” was produced by List Production, Madants, Kinorama, Sense Production and Industria Film. Marinca stars opposite Alina Serban, Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Mia Mustafa, Dzada Selim, Sara Klimoska, Rozafë Çelaj and Ajse Useini. Film I Väst, CommonGround Pictures and Causeway Films co-produced, in association with Tango, New Europe Film Sales and the Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund.

Dir. Goran Stolevski. Intl. Sales: Film Europe

Sudan: “Goodbye Julia”

Sudanese director Mohamed Kordofani’s “Goodbye Julia” has been selected by Sudan to be its second-ever submission in the best international feature category of the Academy Awards.

This timely morality tale that takes place just before the 2011 secession of South Sudan was the first Sudanese film ever to screen in Cannes where it won the Un Certain Regard section’s Prix de Liberté (Freedom Prize) and scored a raft of sales following its launch.

“Goodbye Julia” is the story of two women — one from the North, the other from the South — who are brought together by fate in a complex relationship that attempts to reconcile differences between northern and southern Sudanese communities in the currently war-ravaged country.

In her Variety review of “Goodbye Julia” critic Jessica Kiang praised the film for being much more than “a primer for the class, ethnic and religious unrest that besets the troubled state” of Sudan, noting that “what actually transpires is far more engaging, in the vein of Asghar Farhadi, wherein a tight, high-concept moral core unravels into strands of widening, deepening social consequence.

The film is produced by Amjad Abu Alala, creator of Station Films and director of “You Will Die at Twenty,” which won Venice Film Festival’s Lion of the Future award for best first feature in 2019. It is co-produced by Ali Alarabi, the founder and CEO of Egyptian-American production company Ambient Light Films. “Goodbye Julia” is represented in North America by CAA Media Finance while sales outside of North America are being handled by pan-Arab outfit Mad Solutions.

“I feel very grateful that the committee in Sudan reactivated and selected ‘Goodbye Julia’ for the Oscars race despite the war,” said in a statement Kordofani, who besides directing the film is also one of its producers. “This only shows how resilient and hopeful people in Sudan can be. I feel immensely honored that my film is now on the list of Sudan’s submissions to the Academy and I hope we can be visible to voters so that -maybe- we can be visible to the world and show a different side of Sudan.”

Dir. Mohamed Kordofani. U.S. Sales: CAA Media Finance. Intl. Sales: Mad Solutions

India: “2018”

The Film Federation of India has chosen survival thriller “2018” as its entry for the international feature category of the Academy Awards.

Directed by Jude Anthany Joseph (“Sara’s”), the Malayalam-language film is a survival thriller revolving around the floods that devastated Kerala in 2018. The ensemble cast includes Tovino Thomas, Kunchacko Boban, Asif Ali, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Aparna Balamurali, Narain and Lal.

The film released in May and with a box office of $25 million is the highest grossing Malayalam-language film of all time. It is produced by Kavya Film Company and PK Prime Production and producers include Venu Kunnappilly, C. K. Padma Kumar and Anto Joseph.

Thomas won best Asian actor at The Netherlands’ Septimius Awards earlier this week for his performance in “2018.”

“2018” was selected by a 16-member committee led by veteran filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli who made the decision based on the film’s topical climate change subject.

The other films in contention this year were “The Kerala Story,” “Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani,” “Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway,” “Balagam,” “Vaalvi,” “Baaplyok” and “August 16, 1947.”

India scored a nomination with its very first entry in the category for Mehboob Khan’s “Mother India” (1957). Since then, the country has been nominated twice more – for Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” (1988) and Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Lagaan” (2001) but is yet to win the category.

Last year’s entry, Pan Nalin’s “Last Film Show” was shortlisted but did not receive a nomination. S.S. Rajamouli’s “RRR” won the Oscar for original song for “Naatu Naatu” and Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga’s “The Elephant Whisperers” the documentary short Oscar.

Dir: Jude Anthany Joseph

Palestine: “Bye Bye Tiberias”

Palestine has submitted Lina Soualem’s documentary “Bye Bye Tiberias” to the international feature Oscars race, according to an Instagram post from Lightdox, which is handling international sales.

Soualem’s personal exploration of her relationship with her mother, “Succession” actor Hiam Abbass, world premiered at Venice this year. According to the film’s official synopsis, “Soualem’s love letter to her mother follows the actor as she returns home to the village she grew up in. Drawing on a rich trove of archive footage, this beautiful and intimate documentary finds the artist returning home and reconnecting with the women of Tiberias, Palestine and beyond.”

Denmark: “The Promised Land”

Denmark has submitted “The Promised Land,” starring Mads Mikkelsen, as its selection for the international feature Oscars race.

The film, which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival, was selected from a shortlist including “Before It Ends” by Anders Walter and Lea Glob’s documentary “Apolonia, Apolonia.” Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, “The Promised Land” stars Mikkelsen as the “impoverished Captain Ludvig Kahlen,” who “sets out to conquer the harsh, uninhabitable Danish heath with a seemingly impossible goal: to build a colony in the name of the King.”

“The past few weeks have made it very clear that ‘The Promised Land’ is the strongest Danish candidate to secure a Oscar nomination,” Jacob Neiiendam, head of international at the Danish Film Institute and chairperson of the Danish Oscar Submitting Committee, said in a statement. “It received a fantastic reception from both critics and award experts at its world premiere in the Venice competition as well as at Telluride and Toronto.”

The film has U.S. distribution through Magnolia Pictures, which previously brought Danish films like Arcel’s “A Royal Affair” as well as “The Hunt” and “A War” to the Oscars. Magnolia will qualify the film in all categories including best picture and best actor for Mikkelsen. The U.S. release date is set for Feb. 2, 2024.

Poland: “The Peasants”

Poland has selected animated film “The Peasants,” from the filmmakers of Oscar-nominated “Loving Vincent,” as its entry for the international feature category of the Academy Awards.

“The Peasants,” which is directed by D.K. Welchman (formerly known as Dorota Kobiela) and Hugh Welchman, was produced with the same painting technique as used in “Loving Vincent.” The latter film was nominated for the animated feature film Oscar in 2018, and grossed more than $50 million at the global box office.

For “The Peasants,” the filmmakers were inspired by a wide repertoire of realist and pre-impressionist paintings to depict the Nobel prize-winning novel of Wladyslaw Reymont on film. Set at the end of the 19th century, it tells a story of love and life in a small community, where rules and traditions dictate everyone’s role.

Sean Bobbitt and Hugh Welchman of BreakThru Films produced the film.

“The Peasants” had its world premiere in the Special Presentation section of Toronto Film Festival in September, by which time New Europe Film Sales, the film’s sales agent, had already sold the rights to more than 50 countries. Sony Pictures Classics subsequently acquired all rights in North America, Latin America, the Middle East, and Australia/New Zealand.

Hong Kong: “A Light Never Goes Out”

Hong Kong has selected personal drama “A Light Never Goes Out” as its contender for the best international feature award at the Oscars.

Directed by Anastasia Tsang and starring Sylvia Chang and Simon Yam, the film sees a woman first devastated by the death of her husband and then find the conviction to fulfil his dream of making neon street signs. The topic of the film has become a social talking point in Hong Kong, which has been famous for its colorful, old-fashioned street decorations, but is now seeing these under threat from the march of modernization and progress.

The announcement was made on Monday by the Federation of Motion Film Producers of Hong Kong, which reported the selection by a majority vote.

The film had its world premiere late last year at the Tokyo International Film Festival and enjoyed its commercial release in Hong Kong in April this year. It earned multiple nominations at the Asian, Hong Kong and Golden Horse Awards and saw Taiwan-born Chang secure a win as best actress at the 2022 edition of the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Awards.

Local distribution in Hong Kong is handled by Edko Films. International sales is handled by Entertaining Power.

Bangladesh: “No Ground Beneath the Feet”

Bangladesh has selected ‘No Ground Beneath the Feet’ as its contender for the best international feature film category of the Oscars.

Directed by first time feature director Mohammad Rabby Mridha and produced by Abu Shahed Emon, the film follows the travails of an ambulance driver in Dhaka and the struggles of his wife in a slowly shrinking river delta.

While taking a personal approach, it also tackles universal themes of climate change, poverty and societal ills. The cast includes Mostafa Monwar, who won best performance at the 2016 Singapore International Film Festival for “Live from Dhaka”), Priyam Archi and Deepanwita Martin (“Made in Bangladesh”).

The film premiered at the 2021 edition of the Busan festival’s ‘A Window on Asian Cinema’ strand, which Emon braved two weeks of Korean quarantine to attend. Production was by Golpo Rajjo Films. Distribution is by The Abhi Kothachitro.

While the country may literally be sinking under the rising sea, Bangladesh is a growing force in Asian cinema. Three Bangladeshi films will premiere this year in Busan: Iqbal H. Chowdhury’s “The Wrestler,” Biplob Sarkar’s “The Stranger” will compete in the New Currents section, and “Something Like an Autobiography” by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki is selected in the Jiseok section.

Sweden: “Opponent”

Sweden has selected Milad Alami’s “Opponent,” a politically minded drama which had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

The movie marks the sophomore feature of Alami, a Swedish-Iranian filmmaker, following “The Charmer.” “Opponent” tells the story of an Iranian forced to flee the country in the aftermath of a devastating rumor. As refugees, they end up in a run-down hotel in northern Sweden. While trying to maintain his role as the family patriarch despite the circumstances, Iman breaks a promise he made to his wife and joins the local wrestling club.

“Opponent” stars American-Iranian actor Payman Maadi, as well as Ardalan Esmaili, Björn Elgerd and Arvin Kananian in the supporting cast. Nasiri won the Special Jury Prize at the Seattle Film Festival for her part in the film.

The film was produced by Annika Rogell at “Tangy,” in co-production with Filmpool Nord, Film i Väst, Sveriges Television and Ape & Bjørn in Norway, with support from Film i Västerbotten and the Swedish Film Institute, former film commissioner Madeleine Ekman. “Opponent” had its domestic theatrical premiere on March 31 and is being represented in international markets by IndieSales.

U.K.: “The Zone of Interest”

The U.K. has selected Jonathan Glazer’s “The Zone of Interest” as its contender for the 2023-24 best international feature film category of the Academy Awards.

BAFTA is the organization appointed by AMPAS to select the U.K.’s submission to the category.

Based on the 2014 novel by Martin Amis, the film follows the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, who strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp. The film was shot on location in Poland and features German and Polish dialogue.

The film premiered at Cannes earlier this year where it won the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize.

In his Variety review, critic Owen Gleiberman said of “The Zone of Interest”: “It’s a remarkable film — chilling and profound, meditative and immersive, a movie that holds human darkness up to the light and examines it as if under a microscope. In a sense, it’s a movie that plays off our voyeurism, our curiosity to see the unseeable. Yet it does so with a bracing originality.”

The cast includes Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller. It is film is produced by James Wilson and Ewa Puszczyńska, executive producers are Reno Antoniades, Len Blavatnik, Danny Cohen, Tessa Ross, Ollie Madden, Daniel Battsek and David Kimbangi. It is co-financed by A24, Film4, Access Entertainment and Polish Film Institute. It will be released by A24, which is also handling international sales, in the U.S. on Dec. 8.

The film marked Glazer’s return to directing features a decade after “Under the Skin” (2013).

The U.K. has been submitting to the category since 1991 and has scored two nominations – for “Hedd Wyn” in 1993 and “Solomon and Gaenor” in 1999. It is yet to win the category.

Dir.: Jonathan Glazer. U.S. distrib.: A24

Nepal: “Halkara”

Nepal has selected Bikram Sapkota’s “Halkara” as its contender in the Academy Awards’ international feature category. The film explores the employment scenario in Nepal through the eyes of a postal worker. One of the producers of the film is Ram Krishna Pokharel whose “The Red Suitcase” premiered at Venice recently.

The country scored a nomination the very first time it submitted to the category, for Eric Valli’s “Himalaya: Caravan” in 1999. It is yet to win the category.

Italy: “Io Capitano”

Italy has submitted Matteo Garrone’s powerful immigration-themed drama “Io Capitano” as its candidate for consideration in the best international feature film category at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Shot over 13 weeks in Senegal, Italy and Morocco with a cast of mostly non-professional actors, the Italian auteur’s new film – the title for which translates to “Me Captain” – narrates the Homeric journey of two young African men, Seydou and Moussa, who decide to leave Dakar to reach Europe. It depicts their plight through the pitfalls of the desert, the horrors of detention centers in Libya and the dangers of the sea.

“Io Capitano” world premiered earlier this month to strong reviews in Venice where it won best director for Garrone and best emerging actor for its co-star Seydou Sarr.

“Buoyed by a tremendous performance from newcomer Seydou Sarr, the Italian director’s latest fashions a Senegalese teenager’s struggle to reach Europe as a traditional hero’s journey” wrote critic Guy Lodge in his Variety review. Lodge also praised “Io Capitano” for being “Surprisingly classical in construction and style, wisely guiding our attention away from its sure directorial touch and toward the story at hand — pieced together by a small army of screenwriters and collaborating contributors from first-hand migrant accounts.”

The film is based on an original idea by Garrone, who wrote the script with Massimo Gaudioso, Massimo Ceccherini and Andrea Tagliaferri.

Budgeted at roughly €8 million ($8.8. million), “Io Capitano” is produced by Garrone’s own company, Archimede, with RAI Cinema and Belgium’s Tarantula Film as a co-producer. The drama is backed by Pathé, which is handling world sales through Pathé International.

“Io Capitano” follows Garrone’s more recent works “Tale of Tales” (2015) and “Dogman” (2018), which both launched from Cannes, and his “Pinocchio” adaptation which launched from Berlin in 2020. It marks Garrone’s first collaboration with ace cinematographer Paolo Carnera, who lensed the “Gomorrah” TV series.

Spain: “Society of the Snow”

J.A. Bayona’s “Society of the Snow,” a survival thriller which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival, has been selected to represent Spain in the Oscars’ international feature film race.

“Society of the Snow” is the first time a Netflix film has been selected by the Spanish committee for the Oscars and the second time for Bayona following “The Orphanage” in 2007.

“Society of the Snow” is based on Uruguayan journalist Pablo Vierci’s 2009 book. It tells the true story of survivors of the 1972 Andes flight disaster who had to take extreme measures, including cannibalism, to stay alive.

The movie played on closing night of this year’s Venice Film Festival and features rising Uruguayan and Argentine actors Enzo Vogrincic (“A Twelve-Year Night”), Matías Recalt (“Apache, la vida de Carlos Tévez”), Agustín Pardella (“Pinamar”) and Felipe González (“El Cazador”). It’s produced by Belén Atienza, Sandra Hermida and J.A. Bayona. Starring Enzo Vogrincic, Matías Recalt, Agustín Pardella, Esteban Kukuriczka and Tomas Wolf. The screenplay is by Bayona, Bernat Vilaplana, Jaime Marques, and Nicolás Casariego from the novel by Pablo Vierci. The director of photography is Pedro Luque (“Don’t Breathe”).

Bayona made his directorial debut with “The Orphanage” which launched at Cannes and won numerous awards including seven Goyas, Spain’s highest film honors.

All submissions and materials for the 2023 race must be received by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences by 5pm Monday Oct. 2. And films must meet all the qualifying conditions between Dec. 1, 2022 and Oct. 31, 2023. A shortlist of 15 will be announced on Dec. 21. Final nominees will be announced on Jan. 23, 2024. The 96th Academy Awards is set to take place on Mar. 10, 2024.

Egypt: “Voy! Voy! Voy!”

Egypt has selected dark dramedy “Voy! Voy! Voy!” as its candidate in the best international feature film category at the upcoming Academy Awards.

The announcement was made on Tuesday night at the film’s UAE premiere in Dubai’s VOX Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates. The gala was attended by the movie’s cast comprising Arab stars Mohamed Farrag, Nelly Karim, Passant Shawky and Taha Desouky as well as writer and director Omar Hilal – who is making his transition from advertising to filmmaking with this movie – and producer Mohamed Hefzy, head of prominent Egyptian indie Film Clinic.

“Voy! Voy! Voy!” – which is already a hit in Egypt following its Sept. 13 release – is the tale of an impoverished security guard named Hassan who dreams of a better life. One day he stumbles upon the sport of blind football, and cunningly decides to pose as a visually impaired man to join a team that is close to playing a World Cup tournament in Europe. On this journey he intersects with several characters, including a young female journalist who begins to take an interest in the team.

The film is produced by Film Clinic in tandem with MENA region exhibition giant VOX Studios and Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

Iran: “The Night Guardian”

Iran has selected “The Night Guardian,” directed by Reza Mirkarimi as its contender for the 2023-24 best international feature film category of the Academy Awards.

The announcement was made by the Farabi Cinema Foundation, which reported a unanimous decision by the selection committee. Some 42 Iranian films were eligible, which the committee initially shortlisted to 15, before final weighing up just three: “Conjugal Visit” directed by Omid Shams, “The Town” by Ali Hazrati and “The Night Guardian.”

Mirkarimi’s film premiered last year at the Fajr Film Festival, where it was nominated for nine awards and won in the best director category.

Written by Mirkarimi and Mohammad Davoud, “The Night Guardian” tells the tale of a naïve young village boy whose carefree life is challenged by his trust of a man who is the engineer of a construction project.

Iran has submitted films to the Oscars regularly since 1994 and won on two occasions – with “A Separation” and “The Salesman,” both directed by Asghar Farhadi. Two of Mirkarimi’s films have previously represented the country, 2005 title “So Close, So Far” and 2014’s “Today.”

Morocco: “The Mother of All Lies”

Morocco has selected Asmae El Moudir’s documentary hybrid “The Mother of All Lies” as its candidate for the Oscars international feature race.

The film, which launched in May from the Cannes Un Certain Regard section starts with El Moudir wanting to know why she has only one photograph from her childhood, and why the girl in the picture isn’t even her.

To get to the truth, El Moudir and her father build a miniature set that recreates their neighbourhood, and bring the whole family to the soundstage where it is built.

She then begins to ask questions, unraveling the story, letting her family members talk, asking probing questions. Slowly, she begins to interrogate the tales that her mother, father and grandmother have told all her life about their home and their country, starting to understand the layers of deception and intentional forgetting that have shaped her life.

El Moudir is a Paris- and Rabat-based director, screenwriter and producer. She has directed short documentaries for SNRT, Al Jazeera Documentary, BBC and Al Araby TV. She completed the mid-length film “The Postcard” in 2020. “The Mother of All Lies” is her first feature film.

World sales are being handled by Autlook Filmsales.

Portugal: “Bad Living”

Portugal has chosen to submit João Canijo’s “Bad Living” to the Oscars international feature race.

The film, which won the Silver Bear jury prize at Berlin Film Festival this year, is set at a family-run hotel and follows “a group of women from different generations of the same family, whose relationships with each other have grown poisoned by bitterness,” according to its official synopsis. “They try to survive in the declining hotel, as the unexpected arrival of a granddaughter to this oppressive space stirs trouble, reviving latent hatred and piled-up resentments.”

The film is produced by Midas Filmes.

Director: João Canijo. Int’l sales: Portugal Film.

Finland: “Fallen Leaves”

Finland has submitted Aki Kaurismäki’s “Fallen Leaves” as its representation in the Oscars international feature race. The film previously won the Cannes Jury Prize and the Fipresci Grand Prix.

Starring Alma Pöysti and Jussi Vatanen, “Fallen Leaves” follows “two lonely people who meet each other by chance in the Helsinki night and try to find the first, only and ultimate love of their lives,” according to the film’s official synopsis. “Their path towards this honorable goal is clouded by the man’s alcoholism, lost phone numbers, not knowing each other’s names or addresses, and life’s general tendency to place obstacles in the way of those seeking their happiness.”

Dir: Aki Kaurismäki. U.S. distributor: Mubi.

Indonesia: “Autobiography”

Indonesia has selected the highly acclaimed film “Autobiography,” written and directed by Makbul Mubarak, as the country’s official submission for the Academy Awards in the International Feature Film category.

A masterful debut film which co-opts generic conventions and a rich cinematic style, “Autobiography” illuminates some of the darkest recesses of Indonesia’s recent history – military dictatorship and degrees of complicity as it tells the tale of a young housekeeper-driver and an army general who is retiring from the junta and plans to settle into retirement by becoming mayor of his home region.

It had its world premiere in Venice last year where it won the FIPRESCI award in the Orrizonti section and made its theatrical debut in Indonesia on Jan. 2023 this year.

In total, it was selected for more than 50 festivals and won the Grand Prize at the Tokyo FILMeX festival, the best screenplay at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards 2022, best directorial debut at the Stockholm International Film Festival and best actor for Arswendy Bening Swara at the Marrakech International Film Festival 2022.

“‘Autobiography’ was written several years ago during a period of heightened political polarization in Indonesia, mirroring the political climate in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. ‘Autobiography’ serves as a poignant reflection on that and I hope it could strike a chord with American audiences, much as it did massively in its home country,” said Mubarak. It was seen in North America at the Toronto, Santa Barbara festivals and at the New Directors/New Films event at MoMA and Film at Lincoln Center.

The film structured as a seven-party coproduction involving partners from Indonesia, France, Singapore, Poland, Philippines, Germany, and Qatar, and was filmed in 2021 amidst the challenges posed by the pandemic. Production is by Yulia Evina Bhara from KawanKawan Media and international sales are handled by France’s Alpha Violet.

Czech Republic: “Brothers”

The Czech Republic has submitted Tomáš Mašín’s “Brothers” to fight for the international feature film Oscar.

According to its official synopsis, the drama “tells one of the greatest stories of the Cold War – the story of the Mašín brothers, who decided to leave the communist Czechoslovakia with arms in their hands.”

Marek Epstein wrote the screenplay, and the film stars Oskar Hes, Jan Nedbal, Adam Ernest, Matyáš Řezníček, Antonín Mašek, Matěj Hádek and Tatiana Dyková Vilhelmová.

It will premiere in the Czech Republic on Oct. 26, the 70th anniversary of the Mašín Brothers’ escape.

Armenia: “Amerikatsi”

Armenia has selected comedy-drama “Amerikatsi” as its official entry for the Oscar’s international feature film race. Written and directed by Michael A. Goorjian, it was produced by People of Ar Productions. Goorjian also stars in the feature, which was shot in Armenia and opened in New York and L.A. on Sept. 8.

In “Amerikatsi,” Goorjian (“Part of Five”) plays Charlie, an Armenian immigrant to the U.S. In 1948, he returns to his homeland to find the country under Soviet rule and is soon imprisoned. But from his cell he can see a prison guard’s home. “As his life unexpectedly becomes entwined with the man’s, he begins to see that the true spirit of his homeland is alive in its passionate people,” reads the logline.

The film also stars Hovik Keuchkerian (“Money Heist”), Nelli Uvarova, Mikhail Trukhin, Narine Girgoryan and Jean-Pierre Nshanian.

“Nothing could make me more proud than to represent Armenian Cinema this year and to help shine a light on the massive talent within our small nation,” said Goorjian.

Armenia has never previously been nominated in the Best International Feature Film category.

Producers are Goorjian, R. Patrick Malkassian, Arman Nshanian and Sol Tryon, with Vartan Barsoumian and Serj Tankian executive producing.

Director: Michael A. Goorjian. U.S. Sales: Variance Films Int’l. Sales: Amadeus Entertainment

Israel: “Seven Blessings”

Israel has selected Ayelet Menahemi’s family comedy “Seven Blessings” as its entry for the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category.

The film stars Raymonde Amsallem, Eleanor Sela and Tikva Dayan and Idit Tepreson. Amsallem and Sela also co-wrote “Seven Blessings,” which is said to be used on Sela’s own family.

The film, which opened theatrically in Israel on Sept. 7, tells the story of Marie, a Moroccan woman who was “gifted” by her mother to her infertile older sister, as was customary at the time in the country. 40 years later she travels to Israel for her wedding where her family now live and are preparing to host

“Sheva brachot” (seven blessings) the traditional week of festivities following a Jewish wedding. “But Marie has also come to open old wounds,” reads the synopsis. “Between intoxicating family means, secrets and lies are revealed. Marie is desperate for an apology although her family is sure she should be thanking them. This week turns into a sad comedy about family crimes, forgiveness and loss.”

“Seven Blessings” is Menahemi’s first feature since 2007’s “Noodle.” Ronen Ben Tal produces under his production banner Bental Productions Ltd.

Israel has been nominated for Best International Film category a number of times but has never taken the top prize.

Director: Ayelet Menahemi. Int’l. Sales: TBC

Yemen: “The Burdened”

Yemen has selected Amr Gamal’s abortion drama “The Burdened” as its official entry for the Oscar’s international feature film race. The movie world premiered at this year’s Berlin Film Festival were it won a pair of prizes.

“The Burdened” was selected by a committee formed by the Yemeni Ministry of Culture. This marks the second film directed by Gamal to be submitted to the Oscars. His romantic comedy “10 Days Before the Wedding” was Yemen’s Oscar candidate in 2018.

Represented in international markets by Films Boutique, “The Burdened” is produced by Mohsen Alkhalifi and Amr Gamal at Adenium Productions. Co-producers are Amjad Abu Alala, Mohammed Alomda at Station Films, and Red Sea International Film Festival at Saudi Arabia. The movie was lensed by Mrinal Desai, whose credits include “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The film previously won several laurels, including the Amnesty International Award and Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival, among others. “The Burdened” will have its North American premiere at a festival this fall. It also scooped an award among works-in-progress at the industry section of the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival last year.

“The Burdened” revolves around a couple, Isra’a and Ahmed, who put all their efforts offering a normal life and education to their three young children. When they find out that Isra’a is pregnant again, they have to make difficult decisions guided only by their family’s interest.

Director: Amr Gamal; Int’l. Sales: Films Boutique

Turkey: “About Dry Grasses”

Turkey has announced that revered auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s drama “About Dry Grasses” has been selected as the country’s entry for the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category.

“Dry Grasses” world premiered at Cannes this year, where it won the best actress award for Merve Dizdar. The drama is making its North American bow at Toronto and has also secured a slot at the New York Film Festival in October. Sideshow and Janus Films will release the film in theatres following these fall festivals.

“About Dry Grasses” is the tale of a young art teacher named Samet stuck in a remote village in Anatolia with few hopes of escaping his grim life until he intersects with another teacher named Nuray.

“At 197 minutes, the film might be overlong by many viewers’ standards, but it’s by no means under-filled,” wrote Variety critic Guy Lodge in his Cannes review, going on to describe the film as “By chapters a bristling classroom drama, a provocative ethics lesson, a bitterly conflicted love triangle and an unsparing anatomy of an everyday misanthrope” that “finds Ceylan’s gifts as a dramatist in their finest form since 2011’s “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia.”

“About Dry Grasses” is an NBC Film, Memento Production and Komplizen Film Production.  The screenplay was written by Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The film stars Deniz Celiloglu, Merve Dizdar, Musab Ekici and Eve Bagci.

Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Int’l. Sales: Playtime

Hungary: “Four Souls of Coyote”

Animated feature “Four Souls of Coyote,” the Jury Award winner at the Annecy Film Festival, has been selected as the Hungarian entry for the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category.

The film follows an oil company’s bid to lay pipelines in the American Mid-West, and the protests of the local Native American tribe. The confrontation recalls the tribe’s creation story and the mythical adventures of the sly and murderous Coyote.

The film was directed by Áron Gauder, and produced by Réka Temple’s Cinemon Ent. Wild Bunch venture Gebeka Intl. is handling world sales.

Gauder said: “We wanted to show the aspects of creation and existence that are less known to Europeans. The film warns that man is a fallible creature who has responsibility for other creatures too. We cannot consume limitlessly. We must keep our desires in check because if we do not, then the world will be at risk of destruction.”

The film includes music from Native American artists, including Ulali, Mariee Siou and Joanne Shenandoah.

After premiering at Annecy, where it played in the festival’s main competition, the film went on to win further accolades including Shanghai fest’s best animated film, Arizona fest’s special prize, and L.A. New Media fest’s Grand Prix. Upcoming festival screenings include Baden, Sydney, Seoul, Amsterdam, Edmonton and Copenhagen.

The entry was chosen by the Hungarian Oscar Committee, which included Csaba Káel, Government Commissioner for the Development of the Hungarian Motion Picture Industry, and chairman of the National Film Institute, directors Csaba Bereczki and Ádám Tősér, screenwriter Tibor Fonyódi, film critic György Lukácsy, producer Ákos Pesti, and cinematographer Emil Novák.

Director: Áron Gauder. Int’l Sales: Gebeka Intl.

Romania: “Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World

Romania has chosen Radu Jude’s “Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World” as its entry for the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category. The absurdist comedic drama is in two parts. Part one follows Angela, an overworked production assistant who must drive around the city of Bucharest in order to film the casting for a “safety at work” video commissioned by a multinational company, ostensibly to raise awareness among its own employees. She encounters Marian, a half paralyzed worker, who gets the part. In part two, when Marian reveals on camera that his work related accident is due to the company’s negligence, his statement ignites a scandal, which forces him to re-invent his story to suit the company’s narrative.

The film had its world premiere at Locarno where it received the special jury Prize, commendation of the ecumenical jury and first prize of the junior jury. It will next play at the Toronto and New York festivals.

“Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World” is produced by Jude, Ada Solomon, Adrian Sitaru and 4 Proof Film and co-produced by Adrien Chef, Claire Dornoy, Ankica Juric Tilic, Serge Lalou, Paul Thitges Distributions, Les Films d’Ici, Kinorama and Micro Film in association with Bord Cadre Films and Sovereign Films. It was made with the support of The Romanian Film Centre, Film Fund Luxembourg, Eurimages, Arte Cofinova/19 and Croatian Audiovisual Centre and executive produced by Diana Caravia, Andreas Roald, Dan Wechsler and Jamal Zeinal Zade.

Mubi has acquired all U.S. rights plus streaming rights for Canada, Germany, India, Turkey, Latin America and the Netherlands.

Jude won the Berlin Silver Bear for “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” which was Romania’s submission to the Oscars.

Director: Radu Jude. Int’l Sales: Heretic

Bhutan: “The Monk and the Gun”

The Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has chosen “The Monk and the Gun” by Pawo Choyning Dorji, director of 2019’s Oscar-nominated “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom,” as the country’s entry for the Academy Awards’ International Feature Film category.

The film is set in Bhutan in 2006. Modernization has finally arrived. Bhutan becomes the last country in the world to connect to the internet and television, and now the biggest change of all: democracy. To teach the people how to vote, the authorities organize a mock election, but the locals seem unconvinced. Travelling to rural Bhutan where religion is more popular than politics, the election supervisor discovers that a monk is planning a mysterious ceremony for the election day.

BICMA said: “‘The Monk and the Gun’ stood out as the unanimous choice of the selection committee. This decision was driven by the film’s remarkable ability to authentically portray Bhutan and its potential to captivate international audiences. The film has garnered acclaim for its innovative storytelling, unique thematic elements, strong narrative, and exceptional performances by the cast. It was seen as a true reflection of Bhutan, both in terms of its narrative and technical craftsmanship.”

The film premiered at Telluride and will next play at Toronto. Producers are Jean-Christophe Simon, Hsu Feng, Stephanie Lai and Dorji, while production companies include Dangphu Dingphu: A 3 Pigs Production, Films Boutique, Journey to the East Films, Tomson Films, Closer Media, Animandala, N8 Studios and Wooden Trailer Productions.

Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji. Int’l sales: Films Boutique.

The Netherlands: “Sweet Dreams”

Ena Sendijarević’s “Sweet Dreams,” which looks at the demise of the Dutch colonial era through a satirical lens, has been chosen as The Netherlands’ entry for the international feature film award at the Academy Awards.

The film had its world premiere in the Locarno Film Festival’s Concorso Intenazionale section in August, winning Dutch actress Renée Soutendijk a best performance Leopard award, and will have its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the Centrepiece strand.

On an Indonesian island in 1900, Dutch sugar plantation owner Jan and his wife Agathe are at the top of the food chain, until Jan, after returning from his nightly visit to his concubine Siti, drops dead. To maintain her status, Agathe forces her son Cornelis and his pregnant wife Josefien to travel from Europe and take over the family business. In the midst of a worker’s uprising, Cornelis unveils his plans for progressive change.

Sendijarević’s debut feature “Take Me Somewhere Nice” (2019) won the Rotterdam Film Festival’s special jury award for exceptional artistic achievement, and the Heart of Sarajevo at Sarajevo Film Festival.

“Sweet Dreams” is produced by Lemming Film. Heretic is handling international sales.

Director: Ena Sendijarević. Int’l sales: Heretic

Japan: “Perfect Days”

Japan has picked “Perfect Days,” by German director Wim Wenders, as its contender in the best international feature film race at the Oscars.

The move is potentially controversial as it is the first time that Japan has picked a film by a non-Japanese director. And it represents a snub for Miyazaki Hayao’s “The Boy and the Heron.” Nevertheless, the film’s Nippon credentials are strong – its tale of the everyday life of a Tokyo public toilet cleaner is quintessentially Japanese. It was filmed in Japan, with Japanese actors and in the Japanese language.

And “Perfect Days” and Wenders, who professes Japanese filmmaking icon Ozu Yasujiro as his biggest inspiration, has been embraced by the Japanese industry – indeed “Perfect Days” began life as a local government-commissioned short film. Wenders will be the head of the jury at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and the film play in an out of competition slot as the festival opener.

The film has been warmly accepted by festivals and by critics. In Cannes, where it debuted, it earned lead actor Yakusho Koji the best actor award. Variety’s review said that “Wenders’ gentle character study is his best narrative film in decades.”

Director: Wim Wenders. Int’l sales: The Match Factory.

Tunisia: “Four Daughters”

Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, the film reconstructs the story of Olfa Hamrouni and her four daughters, unpacking a complex family history through intimate interviews and performance to examine how the Tunisian woman’s two eldest daughters were radicalized. It won the L’Oeil d’Or for best documentary at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was the only Arab film in competition. The film will next screen at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Kino Lorber will release the film in the U.S. on Oct. 27 and has also submitted the film in the Academy Awards best documentary feature category. This is the third time that Ben Hania has represented Tunisia at the Oscars, following the submission and nomination of her 2020 film “The Man Who Sold His Skin” and her 2017 film “Beauty and the Dogs.” She is currently serving on the Horizons jury at the Venice Film Festival.

Director: Kaouther Ben Hania. Int’l sales: The Party Film Sales. U.S. distrib.: Kino Lorber

Taiwan: “Marry My Dead Body”

Directed by Cheng Wei-hao, “Marry My Dead Body” hitches a homophobic policeman with a ghost. But despite his fears of homosexuality and ghosts, the cop finds himself working with his spooky partner to catch criminals. The result is an absurdist tear-jerker that is the seventh highest grossing film of all time in Taiwan theaters. It also achieved respectable box office numbers in Hong Kong, Korea and Vietnam before being picked up by Netflix.

The announcement was made by the Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development, operating under Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture.
Director: Cheng Wei-hao. Int’l sales: Calendar Studio.

Australia: “Shayda”

Australia has selected “Shayda” by Iranian-Australian director Noora Niasari as its contender in the best international feature film category of the 96th Academy Awards. The film follows an Iranian mother and daughter who take refuge in an Australian shelter during the Iranian New Year, but they find that even there they cannot escape violence.

The film premiered in Sundance in January. It recently played as the opening film of the Melbourne festival and at Locarno. It was picked up for North American release by Sony Pictures Classics and will have its Australian commercial release in October through Madman.

Production is by Australia’s Dirty Films, which counts Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton among its backers.

Dir: Noora Niasari. Int’l sales: HanWay Films.

Canada: “Rojek”

Canada has selected Zaynê Akyol’s Islamic State documentary “Rojek” as its candidate in the best international feature film category. In the film, director Zaynê Akyol talks to imprisoned members of the Islamic State, alternating their words with aerial views of the countryside. The documentary is told in a mix of Arabic, English, French and Kurdish.

“Rojek” premiered at the 2022 Visions du Réel Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland. It has screened at festivals around the world and won several prizes including at Docville, Valladolid, Jihlava and Hot Docs.

It is produced by Audrey-Ann Dupuis-Pierre, Sylvain Corbeil and Akyol of Metafilms. It is being distributed in Canada by Maison 4:3 and in the U.S. by Icarus Films.

Dir: Zaynê Akyol. Int’l sales: Andana Films

Chile: “The Settlers”

Chile has joined the Oscars race, choosing “The Settlers” (“Los Colonos”) as its entry for international feature film at the 96th Academy Awards. Chile’s biggest prizewinner to date this year, along with Maite Alberdi’s “The Eternal Memory,” which scooped Sundance’s World Cinema Grand Prize, Galvez’s feature debut walked off in Cannes with the Fipresci Intl. Federation of Film Critics Award for best film in the festival’s Un Certain Regard strand.

The film is set to have its North American premiere at the Toronto Festival on Sept. 11, 50 years after Augusto Pinochet’s bloody coup d’etat in Chile. Mubi has moved forcefully swooping on U.S. domestic rights on Gálvez’s movie as well as closing the U.K., Latin America, Turkey, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Benelux and India.

Lead produced by Benjamin Domenech’s Rei Pictures and Giancarlo Nasi at Chilean powerhouse Quijote Films, co-written by Antonia Girardi, in collaboration with Mariano Lines, co-writer on “Argentina, 1985”), “The Settlers” plumbs with a searing but certain grasp of the bigger historical picture of how Chile turned to the British Army vets, out of work after the end of Second Boer War, to apply their expertise in scorched earth tactics to conquer much of Chile’s south.

A revisionist Western, as Variety says in its review, Galvez stands on its head the central driving metaphor of Westerns, bringing civilization to the wild, showing how three horseman commit barbaric acts, in the interests of agri big business, slaughtering Indigenous Selk’nam to carve out a trade route for a big landowner’s cattle reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

Dir: Felipe Gálvez. Int’l sales: MK2

Germany: “The Teachers’ Lounge”

Germany has selected Ilker Çatak’s “The Teachers’ Lounge” as its candidate in the best international feature film category of the 96th Academy Awards. The film stars Leonie Benesch and is produced by Ingo Fliess.

The film had its world premiere in Berlinale’s Panorama section, and won the Label Europa Cinemas prize. It took five prizes at the German Film Awards, including the Lola in Gold for best feature film, and has been shortlisted for the European Film Award.

Sony Pictures Classics bought the film for North and Latin America as well as for Eastern Europe. In addition, Be For Films sold the film to all other territories worldwide, with the exception of Southeast Asia.

In this gripping classroom-ethics thriller an idealistic teacher in a German school faces spiraling consequences when one of her students is accused of stealing.

“The Teachers’ Lounge” was produced by If…Productions Film, and co-produced by ZDF and ARTE, and supported by BKM, MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein as well as the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) and the German Federal Film Board (FFA).

Dir: Ilker Çatak. Int’l sales: Be For Films

Estonia: “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood”

Estonia has selected Anna Hints’ documentary “Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” as its entry for the best international feature film Academy Award. The film won the directing award in the World Cinema Documentary section at Sundance.

Greenwich Entertainment will release it in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of this year. Autlook Filmsales has sold the rights to more than 30 international territories.

As Jessica Kiang’s review for Variety explains, the film centers on “a group of women who gather on and off through the changing seasons in a log-cabin sauna nestled in pretty woods by a lake, a setting straight off the top of a chocolate box, to sweat out their secrets and heal each other with heat, talk and arcane sauna-based rituals.”

Kiang adds: “The small, smoky, steamy miracle of this film is how it creates something so intangible, so lyrical, from the absolutely elemental: fire, wood, water and lots of naked female flesh.”

“Smoke Sauna Sisterhood” is produced by Marianne Ostrat of Alexandra Film.

Dir: Anna Hints. Int’l sales: Autlook Filmsales.

South Korea: “Concrete Utopia”

South Korea, a previous winner in the best international feature category with “Parasite” has selected current box office hit “Concrete Utopia” as its contender in the 2023-24 race. The second film by director Um Tae-hwa, “Concrete Utopia” is set in a Seoul that has been largely destroyed by a massive earthquake. One building stands tall among the wreckage and becomes a refuge for this already inside, but the inhabitants must fend of the unwanted attentions of outsiders.

The film was released on Aug. 9 in Korean cinemas and earned $16.2 million in its first eight days.

Announcing the Oscars decision, the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) said that selectors wanted to pick a world class film with a major star. Lee Byung-hun, who previously starred in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “RED 2” as well as a string of top Korean films (“I Saw the Devil,” “The Age of Shadows” and “A Bittersweet Life”), more than fits the bill. KOFIC urged the film’s international distributor Lotte Entertainment to appoint a U.S. publicist as soon as possible and for the publicist to develop a “bold” marketing campaign.

Dir: Um Tae-hwa. Int’l sales: Lotte Entertainment.

Tajikistan: “Melody”

Tajikistan has selected drama film “Melody” as its national representative in the 2023 Oscars’ best international feature film category. The selection of “Melody” is the first time in 18 years that Tajikistan has chosen to enter the category and only its third time ever.

The film is the story of a woman (Melody) who teaches at a center for children with cancer. With 30 children at the hospice, she is asked to compose a piece using the songs of 30 different birds. She finds just 20 and her mute helper makes Melody understand that hunters have forced the old bird expert out of the village.

“Melody” is written, directed and produced by Behrouz Sebt Rasoul, who is also a novelist and experienced director of commercials. Production is by Sebt Rasoul’s company Nama Film Company.

Shot in the Persian language as a Tajikistan-Iran coproduction, “Melody” enjoyed a commercial release in Iran in March. French-based international sales agent Dreamlab is now seeking festival berths and overseas distribution.

The film’s selection was made by TV Safina and the Union of Cinematographers of Tajikistan, the organization accredited for the task by AMPAS.
Dir. Behrouz Sebt Rasoul. Int’l sales: Dreamlab Films.

Switzerland: “Thunder”

Writer-director Carmen Jacquier’s feature debut is a coming-of-age film set in 1900 against a glorious mountainous landscape and the conservatism of rural Switzerland. It turns on a teenage girl (Lilith Grasmug) who is about to take her vows at the nunnery but is forced to return home when her elder sister dies in mysterious circumstances. The girl is forced to investigate her sister’s death and in doing so tests the constraints of family and the village community.

Produced by Flavia Zanon, “Thunder” (“Foudre”) world premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before a successful run on the international festival circuit, picking up several awards in the process, including two Swiss Film Awards, an Emerging Swiss Talent Award at Zurich, a Special Jury Prize in Rome and a best director prize in Marrakech.

Dir: Carmen Jacquier. Int’l sales: WTF Films.

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