Tuesday, July 30, 2019

2019-2020 Foreign Oscar Predictions (Senegal to Vietnam)

And here's the final batch of predictions:

 SENEGAL- “Atlantique” Senegal entered the Oscar race for the first time in 2017, making it to the Final Nine on their first try, ahead of Egypt, Korea, the Philippines and other countries that have been trying for years. This year, they’re likely to send critically acclaimed migrant drama “Atlantique” (Atlantics), which premiered at Cannes. Migration is a topical subject and French-born director Mati Diop is the first black woman ever to have a film in competition at Cannes. Senegal will definitely send it; it’s just a question whether it will be released in Dakar this year or next.

  SERBIA- “Stitches” For Serbia, this will probably come down to a race between two big festival entries, namely “The Load” (Cannes 2018) and “Stitches” (Berlin 2019). “The Load” is about a Serbian truck driver transporting a mysterious cargo across war-torn Kosovo during the wars of the 1990s. “Stitches” is a thriller about a woman who uncovers a baby theft/illegal adoption ring, and who believes it may have been involved with the disappearance of her own baby that she was told died at birth two decades before. “Stitches” both has better reviews and a story more likely to resonate in the USA. I think it’s fairly safe. Dark horses: “Delirium Tremens” is a black comedy (and Serbia loves to send these) by a respected director about an unrepentant alcoholic seeking treatment; “The Makavejev Case, or Trial in a Movie Theater” is a documentary that won Best Serbian Film at the 2019 Belgrade Film Festival; “Soldier’s Lullaby” is a nationalist war drama set during World War I; and “South Wind” is a hit crime thriller with all the things the Serbs like- violence, dark humour and crime.

  SINGAPORE- “A Land Imagined” It’s rare that tiny Singapore wins a Class-A festival so when “A Land Imagined” was named the surprise winner of the Golden Leopard at Locarno 2018, it automatically became the national frontrunner. It got a domestic release in Singapore in February 2019. I don’t expect this arty noir missing-person mystery to do well with Oscar voters, but it doesn’t have too much competition to represent the city-state this year. Most of their films are comedies and horror films. There are a few upcoming releases that could easily challenge “Land Imagined” if they are released by September 30th, most notably Anthony Chen’s infertility drama “Wet Season”, which is still in post-production. Less likely: “Ibu”, a horror-drama which claims to focus more on character development than scares, crime drama “The Block”, and Chinese co-production “Changfeng Town”, about life in rural China.

  SLOVAKIA- “Let There Be Light” Marko Škop deserved an Oscar for “Eva Nova” which was submitted by Slovakia three years ago. He is likely to get a second chance this year for “Let There Be Light”, which just won Best Actor at Karlovy Vary. It's about a Slovak man working in Germany who returns home for Christmas and learns that his loser eldest son has joined a neo-Nazi gang. This is a serious problem in Eastern Slovakia and the film is the best reviewed Slovak film of the year. The only fiction feature I could see coming close is “By A Sharp Knife” which could easily be part of a double-feature with “Let There Be Light”; it’s about a father trying to get justice for his son, who was murdered by a neo-Nazi gang.  Slovakia has a strong tradition of documentary filmmaking and the new rules may tempt them to send a documentary for the third time. Indeed two previously submitted directors have new docs out this year- “7 Days” (Slovak expat workers) and “The Lonely Runners” (middle-aged friendship)- but they also have “Spirit of Jaguar” (Amazon rainforest) and “Silent Days” (deaf children). But I do think Slovakia will go with one of the two dramas. Dark horse: “Popol”, about two seminary students facing off against a corrupt clergy during the Communist era, probably won’t premiere in time but it will pose a strong threat if it is.

  SLOVENIA-“Half-Sister” Slovenia has a competitive race with no obvious frontrunner. Four previously submitted directors have new films this year, though only one (“History of Love”) has premiered in cinemas, one has premiered on the film festival circuit (“Half-Sister”, Karlovy Vary) and two haven’t yet been screened (“All Against All”, “Everything is Different”). Add to that list “Consequences”, the most visible Slovenian movie on the festival circuit this year, and “My Last Year as a Loser”, which won Best Picture at the 2018 national film awards. So, Slovenia has a range of choices. Coming off a very positive reception in Karlovy Vary and with two months to plan a qualifying release “Half-Sister” is my choice. It’s about two odd-couple sisters with different mothers whose circumstances require them to share a small apartment. Director Kozole has been snubbed twice in the past ten years, so the Slovenian Academy may feel he is owed. “My Last Year As a Loser”, a female-helmed film about an over-educated, under-qualified unemployed young woman, seems to have the best reviews of the remaining films, so that should finish in second place. LGBT juvenile hall drama “Consequences” and family thriller “Everything Is Different” wouldn’t surprise me if they were picked.....“History of Love”, “All Against All” and creepy bureaucracy drama “Erased” would be a bit of a shock.

  SOUTH AFRICA- "Back of the Moon"- South Africa has an exciting four-way race. “Back of the Moon” recently won Best South African Film at the Durban International Film Festival (the country’s most prestigious) and is directed by Oscar-nominated documentarian Angus Gibson (“Mandela”). Set in the 1950s, it’s a drama in Xhosa, Zulu and Tswana about an apartheid-era crackdown on the black cultural hub of Johannesburg. “Fiela se Kind” is an Afrikaans-language drama based on a beloved novel, about a Coloured woman who takes in a lost white child who is later taken from her care. “The Harvesters” played in Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2018 and is about a conservative white family who takes in an orphan. “Knuckle City” is an urban drama in Xhosa about an aging boxer. It opened the Durban International Film Festival. The South African Academy tends not to choose films from the white community, so “The Harvesters” is at a disadvantage, and the director of “Knuckle City” (Jahmil XT Qubeka) was selected last year and I think they may want to spread the wealth. Of the two remaining films, I give the edge to “Back of the Moon” which has good reviews and strong nationalist credentials. Rounding out the Top Five options for South Africa: “Letters of Hope”, a Xhosa-language drama about a young man who must decide whether he wants to continue his father’s dangerous opposition work. 

  SPAIN- "Pain and Glory" (Dolor y Gloria) Most people, including me, see Spain as a two-way race between the last two Spanish directors to win an Academy Award- Pedro Almodóvar (Best Foreign Film 2000, Best Screenplay 2003) and Alejandro Amenábar (Best Foreign Film 2005). With “Pain and Glory”, Almodóvar has starpower (Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz and Cecilia Roth), a major festival award (Cannes, Best Actor) and his best reviews in 15 years. People are already talking about Banderas getting his first Oscar nomination for playing a director in midlife crisis mode. Amenábar (probably directing Nicole Kidman in “The Others” than Oscar winner “The Sea Inside”) has “While At War”, a historical drama set during the Spanish Civil War. It's set to premiere at the end of September. Spain usually announces a three-film shortlist so we really have two races- (1)- which film will go to the Oscars? and (2)- which film will be announced as the third finalist alongside the two heavyweights and get some much-needed publicity? It could be “August Virgin” (Karlovy Vary), directed by the young son of Oscar winner Fernardo Trueba (“Belle Epoque”, Spain’s second Oscar winner), “Between Two Waters”, a drama about two estranged brothers that did quite well at last year’s Goya Awards, thriller “El crack cero”, the latest from José Luis Garci (“Begin the Beguine”, Spain’s first Oscar winner), or “Yuli”, a dance biopic by Iciar Bollain. But I think the final shortlist spot will go to Catalan relationship drama “The Days to Come” (Best Spanish Film, Malaga). For the real contest, I do know that the Spanish Academy does not always pick Almodovar. Since winning for “All About My Mother”, he has been shortlisted to Spain's final three six times out of seven films (comedy “I’m So Excited” failed to advance) but only selected twice (for “Volver” and “Julieta”). It’s very possible Spain will select Amenabar to spread the wealth...but if they want an Oscar nomination they should understand that American audiences will relate far more to a man in a midlife crisis than to a Spanish history lesson on General Franco. I pick Almodovar. 

  SRI LANKA- “The House of My Fathers” Sri Lanka hasn’t sent a film since 2009, but they did have two films premiere at last year's Busan Film Festival. The surreal “House of My Fathers” would be an excellent film to make their return. Sounding like a supernatural version of “Where Do We Go Now?”, it’s about two women from warring villages who go on a journey together to lift a curse of infertility that has been placed on both their communities. "Asandhimitta”- the other Busan entry- has been called “batshit crazy” and compared to John Waters.....It would probably not appeal to Oscar voters. “Her. Him. The Other”, a drama consisting of three short stories meant to help reconcile the two sides from the Civil War could also make a strong choice.

  SWEDEN- "And Then We Danced” Sweden is a bit of a mystery this year. In the first ten months of the eligibility period, there are really only two Swedish-language fiction features that could realistically be considered- family crime drama “Goliath” and dramedy “King of Atlantis”. Both got good reviews (“Goliath” was nominated for Best Picture at the Guldbagge Awards) but neither has gotten any buzz or festival play and they would be surprisingly weak entries for an important country like Sweden. Sweden also has two good “true crime” crime documentary choices- “Reconstructing Utøya”, about the 2012 right-wing terrorist attack in Norway, and “Cold Case Hammarskjöld”, about the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed Sweden’s UN Secretary-General. But those don’t seem right either (and I think “Cold Case” has far too much English). That leaves us with three films that haven’t yet been released in Sweden. Absurdist director Roy Andersson has represented Sweden three times since 2000 with terrible, terrible films and Oscar voters have shown they have zero interest in his cloying nonsensical style. Andersson's new film “About Endlessness” has just been selected for Venice, though the film has no announced release date. “And Then We Danced” (Cannes) is a controversial LGBT love story set in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, and it is directed by a 29-year old Swede of Georgian heritage. With the strongest reviews of the batch and a liberal Swedish Academy that may wish to highlight the fact that the film hasn’t been shown in Georgia, it’s definitely a frontrunner. The final contender is “The Perfect Patient” a legal drama based on a real-life alleged serial killer. Director Mikael Håfström got a shock Oscar nomination for “Evil” in 2004 and the film has timed its domestic release to be right before the deadline. It may be wishful thinking and Sweden may not want to choose a “foreign” film, but I’m predicting they choose “And Then We Danced”. In 2nd place: “Perfect Patient”, then “Reconstructing Utøya”, “Goliath” and “About Endlessness”.

SWITZERLAND- "Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey…” Switzerland will be difficult to predict because they have a dozen films with “good” reviews but none that have popped internationally or that have won any major awards outside Switzerland. To make things even harder, the Swiss Academy has only sent one straight fiction film to the Oscars in the past six years. Instead, they've opted for three documentaries, one animated film and one weird hybrid docudrama. If Switzerland picks a film from Romandy (French-speaking Switzerland) it’s likely to be “Those Who Work”, a grim drama about a workaholic who gets laid off, and his relationship with his lazy millennial daughter. It was the surprise winner of Best Picture at the Swiss Film Awards, which arguably makes it the frontrunner, and Switzerland has picked films from the French region four of the past ten years. If they select a film from Ticino (the tiny Italian-speaking sliver of Switzerland), it’s likely to be “Cronofobia”, a complicated psychological thriller compared to the work of David Lynch. But Switzerland has only ever picked an Italian film once (in 2011). From the large German-speaking region (which has contributed five of the last ten films) they have three strong entries, all focusing on religion: “The Innocent”, about a Christian woman who faces a crisis of faith, “The Reformer”, a period drama about a 16th century Protestant reformer; and the oddly-titled Jewish-themed comedy “Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey Into the Arms of a Shiksa”, the biggest Swiss hit of 2018. As for documentaries, the ones nominated for the Swiss Film Awards last year aren’t eligible, and this year hasn’t been a great one for Swiss docs but I suppose they could send “Separation of Trails”, a WWII docudrama. Switzerland often promotes new films from Locarno but the two Swiss premieres look unlikely- “Die Fruchtbaren Jahre Sind Vorbei” is a girl power comedy and “O Fim do Mundo” is in Portuguese and set in the slums of Lisbon. Final prediction: if they want to go serious, they’ll be predictable and send “Those Who Work”, if they want to surprise with something lighter, they could go with “Wolkenbruch”. I predict they surprise and choose hit rom-com “Wolkenbruch” about an Orthodox Jew going after a pretty gentile girl. 

  SYRIA- “The Day I Lost My Shadow” War-torn Syria somehow submitted a pro-opposition documentary in 2017. Meeting Oscar’s strict seven-day screening requirement is difficult in the middle of a civil war and, if Syria ever submits another film, it will be based on which film’s producers were able to achieve this difficult feat. Last year, I predicted “The Day I Lost My Shadow” (Venice), a simple yet harrowing film about a woman trying to leave her home without getting killed, in order to buy desperately needed cooking supplies. I’m predicting it again this year. “War Travellers”, about two men fleeing Aleppo, won Third Prize at the Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia. However, that film is directed a pro-Assad filmmaker and while it may have an easier time getting screened in (occasionally) stable Damascus, the selection committee seems to anti-Assad and based in-exile. Pro-opposition documentary "During Revolution" just got selected for Locarno, but probably won't have time to arrange anything. It’s amazing Syria is still producing films at all.

Related image  TAIWAN- "Dear Ex” Taiwan is very unclear. On paper, you would expect that an award-winning documentary by Tsai Ming-liang or a Cannes drama by Midi Z. be very strong contenders. But Tsai’s documentary “Your Face” is basically a one-hour avant-garde art project of elderly people’s faces….and Midi Z’s #MeToo inspired  psychological thriller "Nina Wu" hasn’t gotten very good reviews. So, I’m predicting “Dear Ex”, a Netflix drama about a boy and his mother who learn that his late father left his insurance policy not to them, but to his gay lover. It’s won some local awards and that’s probably good enough in a mediocre year. In second place, I have “Dad’s Suit”, a family drama about an ill patriarch and his family. It won Best Taiwanese Film at the Taipei Film Festival, defeating “Dear Ex”, though "Ex" has more buzz thanks to its Netflix connection. In 3rd and 4th: “Nina Wu” and “Xiao Mei”, two thrillers which played at major festivals, but which garnered very mixed notices. In 5th: gonzo crime thriller “The Scoundrels” from Busan. Unlikely but possible in a very confusing year: “Cities of Last Things” (Toronto), rural drama “Wild Sparrow” and controversial political thriller “Shooting of 319”. 

 TAJIKISTAN- “Three Little Dreams” The former Soviet republic of Tajikistan has sent two films, but none in over a decade. The Tajik people speak a dialect of Persian and so the country is often used as a filming location for Iranian directors who want to make a movie that would be impossible to make in the strict Islamic Republic. Tajikistan’s last submission (relationship drama “Sex and Philosophy”) was one of these, so perhaps they’ll consider “Three Little Dreams”, about three bakery employees who discover they’ve been having the same dream about a local man being murdered by the religious police. Iran-born director Chapour Haghighat is based in France. The winner of Best Tajik Film at the Didor Film Festival appears to be an animated film called “Hallucinations”, but I can’t find any additional information about it online.

  TANZANIA- “Sema” Tanzania submitted a film once in 2001, but never entered again. They’re one of the least likely countries on this list to enter a film this year. The country’s major film fest- the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF)- had two local films in competition, “Dema: The Hidden Secret”, a family drama set in Zanzibar, and “Sema”, a ghostly horror film set on the African mainland. “Dema” is only 60 minutes long and “Sema” is more likely to get a cinematic release so I’ll go with that.

Related image   THAILAND- “Manta Ray” Despite several dozen eligible films, Thailand really only has one contender that could arguably be called “critically acclaimed”....That’s arthouse flick “Manta Ray” (Venice), about a Thai fisherman who discovers a desperate and mute Rohingya refugee who has fled the genocide in neighboring Burma. It got a brief Thai commercial release on July 11th so it’s now officially eligible. While Thailand has plenty of “entertaining” horror films, rom-coms and rural musicals, it’s difficult to see what else they could possibly send to Hollywood.....but the Rohingya refugee issue is a sensitive one and the film is said to be a difficult watch. If they don’t send “Manta Ray”….hmmm…Well, two talented directors who’ve been chosen before (Pen-ek Ratunaruang and Chookiat Sakveerakul) have new movies, namely Nepal documentary “Gatlang” and melodrama “That March” (a remake of a Korean movie)…but those would be odd choices. Thai anime film “Ramavata” would showcase Thai culture….but it looks like a PBS series. Supernatural romance ”Homestay” (which got a Best Picture nomination at the Thai Oscars), rom-com ”Friend Zone” and coming-of-age drama “Where We Belong” got good reviews locally….But “Manta Ray” shouldn't have trouble winning this. 

  TUNISIA- “Dear Son” In many ways, Tunisia is the most progressive and liberal country in the Arab world and yet Islamic radicalization and the issue of foreign fighters volunteering to join ISIS remains a serious problem. That is reflected in their cinema, with three of the six Tunisian films at Carthage taking on the same subject. Add to these six  “Tlamess” (Cannes Director’s Fortnight), the sophomore film of the director they picked in 2017 , and it’s a competitive race. I’m pretty sure one of the radicalization dramas will be selected. “Dear Son” is about a middle-class couple who discover to their horror that their son has joined ISIS, while “Fatwa” is about a man who returns home to Tunisia to bury his son, only to discover he belonged to a terrorist group. “Fatwa” won Best Picture at the Carthage Film Festival over “Dear Son”, but I think the more buzzy “Dear Son” (which has played more festivals and is co-produced by the Dardenne Brothers) will be the one to beat. Dark horse: “Look At Me”, yet another father-son drama….this time about a Tunisian who reluctantly returns home to take care of the 9-year autistic son he’s never cared for.

  TURKEY- "A Tale of Three Sisters"- In the past twelve years, Turkey has selected four Nuri Bilge Ceylan films, plus two others that competed in major festivals, and two indie critical darlings. The other four were fairly random choices, which shows they go left field about one-third of the time. This year, most people think this is a race between “Sibel” (Locarno 2018) and “A Tale of Three Sisters” (Berlin), two women-centric pictures that have each won Best Turkish Film at one of the country’s four main film festivals.  “A Tale of Three Sisters”, about three poor girls given to wealthy foster families, hasn’t gotten great reviews from Western critics which makes it odd that it has maintained its frontrunner status. “Sibel”, about a mute young woman living in a small village, has been better received. But I give the edge to “Sisters” because director Emin Alper has had films that have likely come close to representing Turkey before. The directors of “Sibel” are a Frenchman and a Turkish woman based overseas and will likely have less support. But it will be close. “The Announcement” would probably be a smarter choice, but I don’t think this political allegory would be selected in Turkey's current political environment. Three other films that deserve mentioning: “The Pigeon Thieves” (winner, Ankara) a drama focusing on two children working together to help build a house, “Plane Tree”, about a family with a disabled son who learns he may have been switched at birth, and “Noah Land” (Tribeca), about a son fighting to bury his father under a sacred tree. Less likely but possible: documentary “Beloved” and prison drama “Passed by Censor” (Karlovy Vary). My Top Five: “Three Sisters”, “Sibel”, “Noah Land”, “The Announcement” and “Plane Tree”. 

Poster UGANDA- "'94 Terror" So, it seems that Uganda is one of two countries (alongside Uzbekistan) that was approved by AMPAS to submit a film for the first time. That doesn't mean they'll send a film, but they have launched a call for submissions. I was pretty sure they would send historical drama "27 Guns", a patriotic drama literally directed and starring the President's family. But it was released too early and appears to be mostly in English. So I'll predict "'94 Terror", a drama about the Rwandan genocide. This would be an odd initial submission since it takes place in neighboring Rwanda and is in their language; but it does have a Ugandan director. 

  UKRAINE- “Homeward” Ukraine is another of those countries where release dates makes things confusing. This year’s most acclaimed film (“Homeward”) has collected awards but hasn’t been released in Ukrainian cinemas. Last year’s most acclaimed film (“Volcano”) was finally released in April 2019. If they are both eligible, “Homeward” should have this wrapped up. It premiered at Cannes, tied for the Grand Prize at the Odessa International Film Festival and, politically, would be a fitting choice. The film concerns a Tatar father trying to bring the body of his late son home to Russian-occupied Crimea. Surreal comedy “Volcano”, about a translator visiting a strange rural region of southern Ukraine, is likely to get this if “Homeward” isn't released  before the deadline. Ukraine usually announces a three-film shortlist and the final film on that list will likely be nature documentary “Delta” (Best Ukrainian Film at Odessa 2018), medieval epic “King Danylo”, anti-Russia war movie “U311-Cherkasy”, or “My Thoughts Are Silent” (Jury Prize, Karlovy Vary), an odd little comedy about a photographer assigned to find a rare bird.

  UNITED ARAB EMIRATES- “On Borrowed Time” The UAE had an Oscar selection committee approved in 2017, but they haven’t sent a film these past two years. I heard last year that the committee was defunct, but if the UAE chooses to send their first film, they have a couple of possibilities. Last year I predicted “On Borrowed Time”, a charming comedy about four elderly men from a retirement community who go on an adventure around ultra-modern Dubai. It finally got a domestic release this past November so it’s eligible this year. It also made the news for being the first-ever Gulf film released in the newly-opened Saudi cinemas next door. Other options from the UAE: despite a deceptibly silly premise, body-swap comedy “Rashid and Rajab”, about a conservative Emirati businessman and a dim-witted Egyptian vendor, has gotten good reviews and has some clever satire about class and religious differences. “11 Days” is about an Emirati and his family trying to prove his innocence in a criminal case in Thailand.

  UNITED KINGDOM- “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” I’ve always wondered what would happen if two different countries filled out all the Oscar paperwork to send the same film. Would Oscar allow two countries to share a co-production? That may be put to the test this year with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Malawi-set drama “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”. I’ve already discussed the film (see MALAWI) which is about a young boy who helps bring electricity to his impoverished village by building a wind turbine. Director Chiwetel Ejiofor is British of Nigerian descent (he has no family connection to Malawi). Ejiofor also wrote the script, which was based on a book co-written by a Malawian and an American. It was produced in Malawi with a Malawian cast (plus Ejiofor, who learned conversational Chichewa and took on a lead role). The producers and cinematographer are British, the editor is Italian, the composer, art directors and costumers are Brazilian. So, it’s probably more likely to be accepted to represent the UK than Malawi. Other options for the UK include “Samurai Marathon 1855”, about American incursions into 19th century Japan (UK director, Japanese cast and crew) and “Teheran: City of Love”, a critically acclaimed film by a London-based Iranian director. All three could potentially face eligibility problems with AMPAS. 

  URUGUAY- “The Sharks” Uruguay is highly likely to send “The Sharks”, especially since it won Best Director at Sundance.  It’s a coming-of-age drama by a young female director set in an Uruguayan beach town. Their only other high-profile option is “Belmonte”, a spare dramedy by Federico Veiroj that won Best Screenplay in Mar de Plata. Focusing on the life of an aging artist, it sounds just as dull as the director’s previous entry “A Useful Life”. Two other fiction films appear eligible- comedy “Porno for Beginners” and thriller “In the Quarry”- but they both seem highly unlikely. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up choosing a documentary (last year’s shortlist had two),  like “Vida a bordo” or “El Pepe”. “El Pepe” is directed by Yugoslavian Oscar nominee Emir Kusturica and is about the life of President Pepe Mujica, whose life was the subject of last year’s Oscar submission “La noche de 12 anos”.

  UZBEKISTAN- “The Girl with the Red Scarf” AMPAS approved an Oscar selection committee for Uzbekistan this year so we’re likely to see their first-ever submission. It remains to be seen what sort of film the Uzbeks prefer. They’ve had three films featured at small festivals this past year: “To the Ends of the Earth” (Locarno), “Fortitude” (Fajr), and Kyrgyz co-production “The Girl With the Red Scarf”, which represented the country at their national film festival in Tashkent. They also managed a prestigious Nika Award nomination in Russia for “Berlin-Akkurgan” in the CIS Film category. Out of these four, most people are predicting Japanese co-production “To the Ends of the Earth”, about a Japanese woman who travels to Uzbekistan to make a travel television show. It’s certainly a good showcase for Uzbek tourism, but it has a Japanese director and crew and I don’t think it would be accepted (though Uzbekistan may not understand the nationality rules and may send it anyway). I’m predicting “The Girl with the Red Scarf”, about an Uzbek truck driver who falls for a Kyrgyz village girl. If “The Girl” doesn’t get it, I predict “Fortitude”, about a man with terminal cancer trying to set his affairs in order before he dies. Unlikely but possible: costume dramas “Born of the Ashes” and “Islomhodja”.

Image result for "Yo imposible" venezuela  VENEZUELA- “Being Impossible” (Yo, imposible) Venezuela has virtually collapsed but their talented filmmakers continue to overcome adversity and make high-quality films. Over a dozen new films premiered at the national film festival this past summer and cinemas appear to remain open. I predict they send “Yo, imposible”, an LGBT-themed film about a young woman who discovers a shocking secret when she loses her virginity. It won the most awards at the 2019 national film festival, including Director, Screenplay and Actress and it has already gotten a qualifying release, unlike most of its competitors. It's main competition- "The Night of Two Moons"- was just announced with an October release date, so it will be eligible next year. “Little Histories” (which won Best Picture) could pose a threat, but I don't think it's been released. Venezuela has shortlisted (but never chosen) documentaries before so “The Orchid Seller” (Venice 2018; by the same director of “From Afar”) and “It’s All Good” (Esta Todo Bien), about the decline of Venezuela’s health care system, could also contend… “Yo, imposible” is the one to beat, followed by “It’s All Good”. 

  VIETNAM- “The Third Wife” Vietnam should have a fairly easy choice this year. With support from Spike Lee’s production company, limited commercial play in the USA, Singapore and Western Europe, and appearances and awards at numerous festivals (including Toronto, Busan and San Sebastian) 19th century period piece “The Third Wife” should have this all locked up. Unfortunately, “Third Wife” was pulled from Vietnamese cinemas after only four days of release after an online furor over scenes featuring 13-year old lead actress Nguyen Phuong Tray My. In the film, which is based on a true story, Nguyen plays a child bride married to a much older man. Vietnam hasn’t actually banned the film and the producers say they withdrew it voluntarily to protect the actress. It's unclear whether it will be eligible or not. The winner of this year’s Golden Kite Awards- feminist comedy “My Mr. Wife”- was released too early to be considered. So it’s unclear what else Vietnam could choose if “The Third Wife” ends up being disqualified (films need to play for seven days to be eligible for the Oscars). I suppose Vietnam could send supernatural horror film “The Immortal” (director Victor Vu was selected once before), kidnap action movie “Furie” or military-themed horror film “Nơi ta không thuộc về”, which looks amateurish but which got a “Film of Merit” commendation at the Golden Kites this year. It would be rather hilarious if Vietnam submitted “Ngôi Nhà Buom Buom”, the local version of “The Birdcage” (itself based on French film “La Cage aux Folles”). For now, I'm sticking with "Third Wife", though it's not looking good for its chances. 

  YEMEN- Nothing eligible. Last year’s “10 Days Before the Wedding” was nothing short of a miracle. Made in the middle of a civil war, it was one of the last-minute surprises on the 87-film Oscar long-list last year. Since Yemen doesn't have working cinemas, the film was screened in wedding halls, where it played to sold-out crowds. I was privileged to see it at a private screening here in DC, and it was easily the most charming of the 58 submissions I saw last year. It would have made my shortlist. I hope that we’ll see more from Yemen in the future I don't believe there is anything eligible this year. 

POSSIBLE DEBUTS:

Many people are talking about "Talking About Trees" (Berlinale 2019), a documentary and love letter to cinema from SUDAN. The film is about the quixotic quest of a group of aging film directors who are trying to revive an interest in quality cinema despite the societal pressure exerted by the military Islamic authorities, and the related difficulty of keeping Sudanese cinemasopen when young people often prefer towatch films at home. Although the President was overthrown this year, I kind of doubt it got a qualifying release amidst the instability of opposition protests....but with these wily directors, it's a possibility. There's also "Wiren" from the tiny South American nation of SURINAME (where they speak Dutch), about a physician helping a deaf boy to lead a more independent life.