The foreign languagecategory of the Academy Awards has finally been revamped after years ofcontroversy.

The governors of the AcademyOf Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) this week endorsed a series ofchanges including one in which entries for the Oscar can be in any language orcombination of languages so long as the dominant language is not English.

The move comes after lastyear the Academy rejected Saverio Costanzo's Private as the Italian Oscar entry because it was not shot in Italian. Other films which have fallen through the net include MichaelHaneke's Cache, last year rejectedas the Austrian entry since it was shot in French, and Asif Kapadia's TheWarrior, an English film set inIndia and shot in Hindi, which was ineligible as the UK entry in 2001.

Academy executive directorBruce Davis said that the change was in direct response to last year's Private situation.

"That may sound like aprofound change," he said, "but it actually addresses a situation that hascropped up only once before in our history, and may not arise again thiscentury. Last year the Italians wanted to submit a picture [Private] that was clearly made by Italian artists, and whichqualified for the category in every other way except one: there was no Italianlanguage in it. All the dialogue was in Middle Eastern languages."

"The rules clearlyprohibited that, but the situation didn't seem fair to us. So if the Taiwanesewant to send us a picture with exclusively Portuguese dialogue this year, we'reready for them."

The new rules still do not address the issue of nationality which has proved problematic for many co-productions in the past such as Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colours: Red, which was rejected as the Swiss submission in 1994 since the director was Polish, Walter Salles' The Motorcycle Diaries, which was not eligible to be submitted by any one country in 2004 since it was a multi-territory pan-Latin venture, or Josh Marston's Maria, Full Of Grace, a Colombian film in Spanish but directed and produced by Americans, which was barred as the Colombian submission, also in 2004.

Meanwhile theforeign-language category has also had a procedural makeover to enable NewYork-based Academy members to participate in selecting the nominations for thecategory.

Instead of an LA-basedvoting committee deciding on the final five on the shortlist, the 2006nominations will be arrived at in two phases overseen by two distinct screeningcommittees.

The Phase I committee willbe the same LA group of 700 or so members that has viewed the roughly 60 annualsubmissions in past and selected the five nominees from the field. However, insteadof deciding on the final five, this Phase I committee will come up with ashortlist of nine.

The Phase II committee, madeup of ten randomly selected members of the original committee, ten LA-basedmembers not on the original committee and ten New York-area members, will viewthe shortlisted films in a three-day bicoastal marathon and select the nomineesfrom that field.

Academy president Sid Ganissaid that the move was made to enable busy working members of the Academy toparticipate in the selection process without them having to commit to "severalmonths' worth of screenings."

The previous system whichrequired members to volunteer to see the foreign-language films was considereda magnet for older members with no full-time jobs, who often opted forconservative choices unrepresentative of the best international films on offer.

Other changes made to theOscar rules are:

- In the sound editingcategory, the annual number of nominees has risen from three to five and the25-year tradition of the "bake-off" has been eliminated for the category infavour of a preferential ballott.

- In the documentaryfeature category, an eight-city US release is now required and in thedocumentary short category, a four-city release is mandatory.

- In the short filmcategories, the rules no longer prohibit multiple entries from a producer orproducing team.

- Like the sound editingcategory, feature documentaries will now be voted on by a preferential sytstemnot an averaged-point system.