How Festivals Help Build Awards Buzz for International Talent

·4 min read

It’s tempting to draw a straight line between the Academy’s increasingly global composition and the unprecedented triumph of Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” in 2019. And if we regard the Academy’s changing attitude less as a driver and more as a symptom of a more general broadening of cultural horizons, the correlation is more than pure coincidence.

But the real story of international talent making waves at the Oscars is more complex, differing from category to category and complicated by varied international release strategies. With respect to the role international festivals can play in this process (excluding international feature, which is a category unto itself), “Parasite’s” win at Cannes gave it an enviable profile boost in 2019, but even that was a little anomalous: in recent years Venice has eclipsed Cannes and U.S. festivals as a launchpad for Oscar players.

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Cannes prizewinner “Drive My Car” has a shot at Oscar noms in several categories.

After 2020’s instability, 2021 saw both Cannes and Venice go ahead physically, giving their titles — and all who sailed in them — the benefit of the column inches and starry galas that online or hybrid festivals such as Sundance or Toronto could not offer. However, neither of their top winners will feature much in the Oscars this year: Venice’s “Happening” has not yet been released Stateside, and Cannes’ “Titane” failed to even make the shortlist for international feature.

Still, while Cannes 2021 won’t yield a behemoth on par with “Parasite,” outside its pretty surefire international feature nom, Japanese master Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Cannes screenplay-winning “Drive My Car” has a shot at a best picture nom, a good chance at adapted screenplay for Hamaguchi, and there’s been some groundswell, particularly among critics’ groups, for Hidetoshi Nishijima in lead actor.

Venice-premiering “The Power of the Dog,” from New Zealand’s Jane Campion, is heavily tipped to score noms for picture, director, actor (British star Benedict Cumberbatch), supporting actor (Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee), editor (Australian Peter Sciberras) and cinematography (Australian Ari Wegner).

Of the two Venice scores from Britain’s Jonny Greenwood, it’s likely “The Power of the Dog” will edge it over “Spencer.” Spain’s Penélope Cruz, the actress winner at Venice, is still in the running for an actress nomination at the Oscars for “Parallel Mothers,” and “The Lost Daughter” is surely going to net British Oscar-winner Olivia Colman another nom. There are potential craft nominations across the board for the largely international crew of Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” and Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune.” So Venice’s reputation as a springboard for Oscar attention seems secure.

Among the most surefire of “Dune’s” craft noms is Australian Greig Fraser’s for cinematography, in what is shaping up to be a banner year for non-U.S. DPs. Fraser’s compatriot Wegner’s hotly tipped nomination for “The Power of the Dog” would bring the all-time number of women cinematography nominees to a whopping two, although French lensers Claire Mathon and Hélène Louvart could also sneak in for “Spencer” or “The Lost Daughter,” respectively.

Diluting their chances are the winners from Camerimage (the cinematography festival in Poland), which has a track record of correspondence with the Oscar’s picks, and which this year awarded Fraser for “Dune,” Frenchman Bruno Delbonnel for “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” and Ireland’s Robbie Ryan for “C’mon C’mon.”

Annecy, an animation festival in France, also often yields a title or two that ends up in the animated feature field. This year that should be Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” which also has hopes as Denmark’s international entry, and in the documentary feature category too. Other Annecy films in the running for an Oscar include “Josee, the Tiger and the Fish,” “Poupelle of Chimney Town” and “The Ape Star.”

The documentary feature shortlist is dominated by films that premiered at Sundance, but several international docs launched at Park City and then gained momentum on the international festival circuit, including “Flee,” Indian directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh’s “Writing With Fire,” an Audience Award winner at IDFA, Mexican director Jessica Beshir’s “Faya Dayi,” which won Hot Docs’ Audience Award, and Danish director Camilla Nielsson’s “President,” whose lengthy tour included CPH:DOX.

The likely healthy showing for international talents at the Oscars is slightly deceptive. Much of it will come from a handful of films. It’s a reminder that the global ecosystem that links the U.S. Academy to the festival circuit is fragile.

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