Today I was one of the few members of the public allowed in to attend a symposium on the Foreign Film Award nominees for the Oscars. The fun part was that it was in the Academy of Motion Pictures, which is filled with larger-than-life Oscar statues. There were even two by the bathrooms.
The five directors of the foreign films nominated for the Oscars were all there on stage, and most exciting, we saw a five-minute excerpt from each film. It was an awkward group of men in some ways: an Israeli film about soldiers in a fort inside Lebanon; an Austrian (Hitler was Austrian) with a film about the Holocaust; a Russian with a film about Genghis Khan, who is the impersonation of evil to many Russians; a Pole with a film about Russians massacring Poles; and a Russian with a film about a Chechen defendant in a murder trial.
This year there was an uproar because two of the most highly praised foreign films, Persepolis (I have been a fan of Persepolis since it first came out as a French-language bande dessinée) and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, didn't even make it onto the short list for the Foreign Film nominations-- not the Oscar list itself, but the group of films that the Oscar nominees are chosen from. I could see why when the emcee asked the Foreign Film voters present to stand up-- they were oooold. Of course an abortion movie and a "comic strip" weren't their cup of tea. Even though those movies looked a lot better than the Russian nomination, which is two hours and thirty minutes of twelve rather ugly men sitting around a table talking....
The Mongol movie, about Genghis Khan, was the obvious crowd-pleaser (so it probably won't win). It was gorgeous, with the actors all speaking Mongolian. The child who plays the young Temujin/ Genghis "was born in the saddle," said the director.
The Austrian movie, about Jewish criminals who survived the Holocaust as counterfeiters working in Auschwitz, also looked very moving and the main character it is based on, an old man, was sitting in the audience.
The Israeli director spoke without a microphone because of his religious beliefs.
I learned something funny tonight. Some people are hired as seat-fillers for the Oscars! During the show, whenever a star goes up on stage or anyone in the front leaves his or her seat, a seat-filler will rush up and sit there so the theater looks full!