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Oscars 2023: A Discussion With Three International Contender Filmmakers

It’s December and the Oscar buzz is fully on. With final nominees are to be announced in the upcoming year although submissions have been launched. Entries closed in October. The criteria outlined require the submissions to have theatrically released in respective countries from January 1st till November 30, 2022.

So what exactly classifies as an ‘international feature’? Well, The Academy defines this as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the US with a predominantly (more than 50%) non-English dialogue track and can include animated and documentary features.

As campaigns are underway, several filmmakers continue to throw their hats into the Oscar ring. Filme Shilmy speaks with Singapore’s He Shuming, Pan Nalin of India and Bolivia’s Alejandro Loayza Grisi. Their films Ajoomma, Chhello Show and Utama are representing their countries.

He Shuming – Singapore: Ajoomma, Mandarin/Korean/English

Ajoomma has been six years in the making, from the writing to its final execution. He Shuming takes the plunge as his feature film debut. The movie, which means ‘Aunty’ is headlined by Hong Huifang, a celebrated actor from Singapore, known for her stint on Television.

After working decades in Television and in various roles as the supporting cast, the picture marks her first role in headlining a movie. In fact, Hong became the first Singaporean to be nominated for Best Leading Actress at the Golden Horse Awards. It even premiered at the Busan International Film Festival The film is touted as the first official Singapore-Korean co-production.

Shuming talks about entering the Oscars race for nominations: “There are a lot of stories that can come out from Singapore. Maybe a global audience might not have an inkling of what Singapore cinema is. Unless you’re in the realm of arthouse films. But in some ways, I think the global phenomena of Korean drama/pop culture have become very familiar to audiences around the world. As well as in Singapore. I thought if we could tell a Singaporean story in a familiar landscape, then maybe audiences would want to know more about the stories that can come from Singapore.”

The movie is based on a widow. Being obsessed with Korean soap operas, she travels abroad for the first time in her life to Seoul and finds more than she had bargained for. Ajoomma had its world premiere at the Busan Film Festival. Golden Village Pictures are distributing it.

Pan Nalin – India: Chhello Show (Last Film Show), Gujarati

Pan Nalin’s Chhello Show (Last Film Show) is the second Gujarati film to represent India on the International film front at the Oscars. Over the years, Nalin has made movies in various languages including Tibetan/Ladakhi, Japanese and Hindi. However, this is the first time he helms a picture in his own native language. That too is a cinematic love letter to his home, his roots in Kathiawad, Gujarat. Divinity has always formed a very important crux in his movies.

Pan describes his earlier stages as a filmmaker. “My parents hardly knew how to read or write, but then had a different type of wisdom, which is local but then also yet universal about it. I reverted back to my spiritual upbringing. For the first time, I backpacked across India, to understand my roots and where people tell stories. That helped me to process. Unlearning [any previous understanding of world cinema], helped me to find my identity and tell stories that I fall in love with and want to watch.”

The film is based on Samay (Bhavin Rabari), a 9-year-old boy living with his family in a remote village in India. He discovers films for the first time and is absolutely mesmerised. Against. his father’s wishes, he returns to the cinema day after day to watch more films and even befriends the projectionist, Fazal (Bhavesh Shrimali). He, in exchange for his lunch box, lets him watch movies for free.

Prior to the submission, Last Film Show bagged several awards at film festivals. Including Golden Spike at Spain’s 66th Valladolid Film Festival. Ropes in international distributors including US’ Samuel Goldwyn Films and Orange Studios. Japan’s Shochiku Studios is also on board. The Indian distribution is handled by Roy Kapur Films, Jugaad Motion Pictures and Monsoon Films.

Alejandro Loayza Grisi – Bolivia: Utama, Spanish/Quechua

Prior to its Oscar submission, Utama (meaning ‘Our home’) made waves by bagging the World Dramatic prize at Sundance Film Festival. Writer-director Alejandro Loayza Grisi showcases a couple’s daily rituals and the environmental challenges they face. With keen attention to the dynamics of a place facing an existential threat. Their neighbours have moved away and although they are increasingly isolated pair are determined to remain in the place they have always called home, whatever the consequences.

Sharing a few words about The Academy nomination, Grisi expresses: “I had the lovely opportunity to travel around Bolivia. It’s a big country with a small population. It is a country that has very beautiful places and landscapes. It’s very frustrating and sad to see how it’s in danger of disappearing. It gives you a feeling of anger and wanting to do something about it. I want to do more things about it… Not just feature films, but even short messages. In Western movies, it is the conquering of nature and the conquering of the Wild West. In this case, it is resisting the place you’ve always known and belonged to. It is also the fight against a desert which keeps growing.”

Elements of magical realism provide a sense of mystery, while nature grounds their lives in ways that cannot always be explained. Furthermore, the foreboding but stunning picture highlights two exceptional performances from José Calcina and Luisa Quispe as Virginio and Sisa, living in a remote area of Bolivia and navigating possible changes to their way of life. Conic is Utama‘s UK distributor.

Besides the above titles, other international submissions include (see the link attached for a detailed list):

  • Holy Spider, Ali Abbasi (Denmark)
  • Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths, Alejandro G. Inarritu (Mexico)
  • Home For Sale, Taalaibek Kulmendeev (Kyrgyzstan)
  • Butterfly On The Windowpane, Sujit Bidari (Nepal)
  • Joyland, Saim Sadiq (Pakistan)
  • Saint Omer, Alice Diop (France)
  • All Quiet On The Western Front, Edward Berger (Germany)
  • Beautiful Beings, Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson (Iceland)
  • EO, Jerzy Skolimowski (Poland)
  • World War III, Houman Seyyedi (Iran)
  • Under The Fig Trees, Erige Sehiri (Tunisia)

Last year’s edition saw a final total of 92 eligible entries. The 95th Academy Awards will take place on March 12, 2023, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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