Recognition for this year's best foreign-language Oscar contenders will help increase market share for indigenous films and boost government support for local industries.
That, at least, was the hope expressed by makers of three of the nominated foreign-language films at a packed public symposium in Los Angeles on the eve of the Academy Awards.
At the same time, however, two of the three film-makers at the pre-Oscar event indicated that their next films will be shot in English rather than their native tongues.
The symposium, hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, brought together Carlos Carrera, director of Mexico's controversial El Crimen Del Padre Amaro, Peter Herrmann, producer of German period drama Nowhere In Africa (director Caroline Link was kept away by a personal emergency), and Paula van der Oest, director of bittersweet Dutch comedy Zus & Zo. (Missing from the event were representatives of the other two nominated films: Zhang Yimou's Hero, and Aki Kaurismaki's The Man Without A Past.)
Herrmann - speaking 36 hours before Nowhere In Africa won the Oscar - said the nomination alone was "very, very important". The fact that Caroline Link's 1996 film Beyond Silence was a German hit and got an Oscar nomination itself was one of three "miracles" that helped get Nowhere In Africa financed, he said (the other two were the surprise success of the book on which the film is based and the timely peaking of the German stock market).
The new nomination, he suggested, will draw attention to the film (which has already had a successful theatrical release in its home territory) and other indigenous films in a German market dominated by US product. "If the Americans says 'This is a good film,'" Herrmann declared, "the people in my country believe it."
Carrera said he hoped his film's Oscar recognition, and the nods in other categories for Frida and Y Tu Mama Tambien, might lead to increased state funding for the Mexican industry. The nomination of Mexico's Amores Perros two years ago produced promises of additional government support, he recalled, but "nothing happened. We hope that this time they will give us more money for making films."
Van der Oest was similarly hopeful for a benefit to her local industry. But she noted the personal benefits of an Oscar nod as well, joking that the nomination has allowed her "to go into a Valentino store and try on a $9,000 dress."
The nomination could also help van der Oest launch a US career. The Dutch film-maker confirmed at the symposium that negotiations are currently underway with American producers (who saw the film at the 2001 Toronto festival) about a US re-make of Zus & Zo. The plan is for van der Oest to direct the re-make herself. More immediately, she said, she will direct Moonlight, her first English-language film (and her first from someone else's script), though one with "almost no dialogue".
"I continue making movies in the Netherlands because I like to work there," van der Oest explained. "But I'm also curious and ambitious, so I wouldn't mind making a movie here [in the US]."
Herrmann said that he too is working on a project that could end up being shot in English. Though he claimed to be "not qualified enough" to produce a US project, he did report that he is "planning another big movie. If you need a bigger budget - $7m or $8m say - you are forced to shoot in English for the financing. My ideal is to do big films with a German director and a German crew but in English and with an international cast."
Carrera said he is open to the idea of making a US film, but "it depends on the story." Currently, however, he is working in Mexico on an animated short and two screenplays: one based on the true story of a Mexican Indian on a mystical quest to the US, the other based on Mexican author Mario Gonzalez Suarez's novel De La Infancia, about a young boy and his abusive father.
The three filmmakers got a warm reception from an audience of almost 1,000 people at the symposium. Event moderator Mark Johnson, an Oscar-winning producer himself (for Rain Man) and chair of the Academy's Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee, praised the quality of this year's record 54 entries for the foreign language Oscar.
"We had an embarrassment of riches this year," Johnson said of the nominee selection process. "I look at the English-language films vying for the award in the other category and see half as many outstanding films.
"Don't tell anybody I said that," he added, after the remark drew a round of applause from an audience that had apparently made the same assessment.