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.
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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
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.
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
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 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 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 Giancarlo Nasi at Chilean powerhouse Quijote Dilms, 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 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.
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.