Submissions for the best international feature film award at the 2021 Academy Awards have started to come in, and Screen is keeping a running list of each film below.
The 93rd Academy Awards is set to take place on April 25, 2021. It was originally set to be held on February 28, before both the ceremony and eligibility period were postponed for two months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Submitted films must have been released in their respective countries between the expanded dates of October 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020. (Last year it was October-September).
In another change to the eligibility rules, films that had a previously planned theatrical release but are/were initially made available through a commercial SVoD service may now qualify for consideration. The standard rules state that an initial theatrical release is compulsory.
This is the second year the award will be given under the name of ‘best international feature film’, after a change in April 2019 from ‘foreign-language film’.
An international feature film is defined as a feature-length motion picture produced outside the US with a predominantly non-English dialogue track, and can include animated and documentary features.
2020’s award saw 92 submissions, with nominations for Spain’s Pain And Glory, Poland’s Corpus Christi, North Macedonia’s Honeyland, and France’s Les Misérables, and the award eventually going to South Korea’s Parasite, which was also the first non-English language film to win the best picture prize.
Croatia: Extracurricular (Ivan-Goran Vitez)
Croatia has one of the longest runs without any form of international feature representation: this is the country’s 29th submission, and it has yet to reach the nomination stage. Director Vitez’s third feature is a crime comedy-thriller about a recently-divorced father who takes his daughter’s school class hostage on her birthday. The film debuted at Croatia’s waterside Pula Film Festival in July 2019, before going on to play Chicago and Palm Springs festivals in the US.
Palestine: Gaza mon amour (Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser)
Palestinian brothers Tarzan and Arab Nasser were born in Gaza in 1988, one year after the last cinemas in the region were closed. Their debut short, Condom Lead, was the first Palestinian film to play in the official short film competition at Cannes in 2013. They followed it up with feature Dégradé in Critics’ Week in 2015; and now Gaza mon amour, which premiered in Horizons in Venice in September 2020 and won the NETPAC award soon after at Toronto. It centres a sixty-year-old fisherman, in love with a lady who works at his local market, who discovers an ancient phallic statue in his fishing nets. Palestine only submitted to the international feature award for the first time in 2003; it has two nominations from its twelve entries to date, both for Hany Abu-Assad - for Paradise Now in 2006 and Omar in 2014. Salim Dau and Hiam Abbass (currently seen in HBO’s Succession) lead the cast.
Algeria: Héliopolis (Djaâfar Gacem)
Algeria’s international feature Oscar submissions got off to an auspicious start - the country’s first entry, Costa Gavras’ Z, won the award in 1970. There have been four further nominations since then, with three of them for Rachid Bouchareb, most recently for Outside The Law in 2011. Algiers-born director Gacem returns to the same subject as that film: the Sétif and Guelma massacre in 1945, when French colonial powers violently suppressed demonstrations for independence by the Algerian people. Bouchareb’s title sparked controversy in France for its unorthodox portrayal of an oft-covered event in Algerian cultural history.
Ivory Coast: Night Of The Kings (Philippe Lacôte)
This film follows a young man on his first night in the infamous Ivorian prison La Maca. He is told he must entertain his audience as the designated storyteller until morning, risking death should he fail. It is directed by Philippe Lacôte, whose previous feature, Run, debuted in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2014 before being submitted for Oscar (it was not shortlisted). Night Of The Kings received its world premiere at Venice before going on to play Toronto. The only other time a film has been submitted by Ivory Coast for the Oscar was in 1977, when Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Black And White In Color won the Academy Award.
Ecuador: Emptiness (Paul Venegas)
Ecuador becomes the first country in Latin America to choose its entry for the 2021 awards, with Venegas debut feature about two Chinese immigrants in Ecuador, whose fate is in the hands of bipolar gangster Chang. The Ecuadorian-Uruguayan co-production won the best Ecuadorian film award at the country’s Guayaquil Film Festival, and will have its international premiere in a few days at Busan Film Festival in South Korea. This is Ecuador’s ninth submission to the international feature award; the country is yet to reach either the shortlisting or nomination stage.
Panama: Causa Justa (Luis Franco Brantley, Luis Pacheco)
In El Chorrillo (a central district in Panama City, a military officer, a fisherman, an American businessman, a prostitute and a young man trying to keep his friends from joining the fighting live through the 1989 United States invasion of Panama. That invasion - named Operation Just Cause - lends both its name and background to the film. This is a debut directorial effort for both Brantley and Pacheco; the latter has producer credits including 2018 documentary Panama, and was an executive producer on 2014’s Escobar: Paradise Lost. This is Panama’s seventh Oscar entry in this category; none of the previous six have reached the nomination stage.
Bhutan: Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom (Pawo Choyning Dorji)
The directorial debut of Bhutanese photographer Pawo Choyning Dorji was shot on-location at the world’s most remote school in the Himalayan glaciers. It centres on a teacher who is sent to the remote school for his final year of training. The high altitude, lack of amenities and increasingly cold weather make him want to leave as soon as he arrives but the local children launch a charm offensive in a bid to convince him to stay before the truly harsh conditions of winter hit. The film debuted at the London Film Festival, going on to play Busan and Palm Springs, where it won the audience award. Dorji was previously best known internationally as the producer of Hema Hema: Sing Me A Song While I Wait, which premiered in Toronto in 2016. Bhutan has only submitted one other film for the Oscar, Khyentse Norbu’s The Cup in 1999, which centres on two young, football-crazed Tibetan monks and was produced by the UK’s Jeremy Thomas – but it was not shortlisted.
Singapore: Wet Season (Anthony Chen)
Chen becomes only the second Singaporean filmmaker to be selected twice solo as his country’s Oscar entry, following industry stalwart Eric Khoo. Chen’s Ilo Ilo - winner of the Caméra d’Or at Cannes in 2013 - was also submitted for the 2014 awards. Wet Season premiered in the Platform section at Toronto 2019, going on to play London and Thessaloniki. It centres a teacher and student at a Singapore high school who form a special, self-affirming bond. Singapore has never reached the nomination stage at the Oscars, with this being the country’s 14th entry.
South Korea: The Man Standing Next (Woo Min-ho)
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Taiwan: A Sun (Chung Mong-hong)
This drama, about a family torn apart when the youngest son is sent to a juvenile detention centre, won five prizes at the Golden Horse Awards in 2019, including best narrative feature, director and audience award. Director Chung’s credits include Godspeed, which travelled to multiple festivals including Toronto and Tokyo in 2016, and Parking, which premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2008. Taiwan has previously made the shortlist three times with films directed by Ang Lee: The Wedding Banquet in 1993, Eat Drink Man Woman in 1994 and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which won the Oscar in 2000.
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Zbanic)
Set in 1995, this drama follows UN translator Aida, who tries to save her family after the Serbian army takes over the city of Srebrenica and begins the ethnic cleansing of its Bosniak population. The film debuted at Venice and was also screened at Toronto. Sarajevo-born writer-director Jasmila Zbanic previously saw her 2006 feature Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams submitted for the Oscar, after winning the Berlinale’s Golden Bear, but it was not shortlisted. The country previously won the Academy Award in 2001 for Danis Tanović’s No Man’s Land.
Czech Republic: Charlatan (Agnieszka Holland)
With international feature submissions determined by the film’s country of production, it is possible for a director to represent multiple countries across their career; however, this is rare in practice. With Charlatan, Agnieszka Holland achieves the impressive feat of appearing on the list for three different nations: she represented her native Poland twice (Pokot in 2018, and In Darkness, which was nominated in 2012), and was previously nominated for Angry Harvest for Germany in 1986. Berlinale 2020 premiere Charlatan is the story of a man gifted with exceptional abilities set against the background of the events of the totalitarian fifties. The Czech Republic’s international Oscar peak came in 1997 when Jan Svěrák’s Kolya won the award; nominations came in 2001 and 2004, while Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird made last year’s December shortlist.
Georgia: Beginning (Dea Kulumbegashvili)
San Sebastian jury president Luca Guadagnino called Dea Kulumbegashvili’s debut feature “a revelation, a moment of authentic cinema that fills the screen with flames.” This endorsement bodes well for a run to what would be only Georgia’s second-ever nomination in the category, after a nod for Nana Jorjadze’s A Chef In Love, the country’s first entry, in 1997. Beginning takes place in a sleepy provincial town in Georgia where a Jehovah’s Witness community is attacked by an extremist group.
Kosovo: Exile (Visar Morina)
Kosovo’s seventh Oscar submission is both Morina’s second feature film, and second time representing his country on this stage. Exile tells the story of a chemical engineer of foreign origin who feels discriminated and bullied at work, plunging him into an identity crisis. The film debuted at Sundance in January, and is produced by German company Komplizen Film, behind recent international hits Toni Erdmann, A Fantastic Woman, and Synonyms. Kosovo is yet to record a nomination from its six previous attempts.
Luxembourg: River Tales (Julie Schroell)
Julie Schroell’s documentary centres actor and teacher Yemn who, when a Chinese businessman wants to take control of the interoceanic route in Nicaragua, creates a play with the local kids to reflect on their history, their identity and the country’s future. It was selected for the online Galway Film Fleadh in July. This is Luxembourg’s 16th submission for the international feature prize, with none of the previous entries reaching the nomination stage yet.
Poland: Never Gonna Snow Again (Malgorzata Szumowska)
The country that produced Andrzej Wajda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Roman Polanski, and Agnieszka Holland is on something of a roll in recent years at the Oscars. Six nominations at the last 13 ceremonies include Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi last year and Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War the year before; with the latter director’s Ida winning the prize in 2015. Co-written with Michal Englert, this is Szumowska’s 10th feature and first Oscar entry, centring on a Ukrainian migrant working as a masseur who becomes a guru-like figure in the gated community where his clients live. It received its world premiere in competition at Venice 2020.
Romania: Collective (Alexander Nanau)
Nanau’s documentary has already secured both a US and UK release on November 20, through Magnolia in the former and Dogwoof in the latter, both in partnership with Participant Media. The Romania-Luxembourg co-production debuted at Venice 2019, before going on an extensive festival tour including Toronto, Zurich, IDFA, Sundance, and Docaviv. In the film Nanau follows a crack team of investigators at the Romanian newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor as they try to uncover a vast health-care fraud that enriched moguls and politicians and led to the deaths of innocent citizens. Romania has never received an Oscar nomination from 35 previous entries in this category; the closest was Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond The Hills, which made the January shortlist in 2013.
Switzerland: My Little Sister (Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond)
This drama centres on a brother and sister, played by Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger, who reconnect as he recovers from leukaemia. It received its world premiere in competition at the Berlinale. It was written and directed by Chuat and Reymond, marking their second fiction feature after The Little Bedroom, which was Switzerland’s Oscar entry in 2011. Beta Cinema handles worldwide sales on My Little Sister, which is due for a Swiss release at the beginning of September and Germany and Austria in October. The last time Switzerland made the final shortlist (and won) was in 1990 with Xavier Koller’s Journey Of Hope.
Ukraine: Atlantis (Valentyn Vasyanovych)
This dystopian drama revolves around a PTSD-suffering former soldier who struggles to adapt to life in near-future, war-torn eastern Ukraine. Directed by Valentyn Vasyanovych, it won best film in the Horizons strand of the Venice Film Festival in 2019 and went on to win several other awards at international festivals. It marks the fourth feature of Vasyanovych, who previously served as producer, cinematographer and editor on The Tribe, which won the Critics’ Week grand prize at Cannes in 2014. Ukraine has yet to have a film nominated for the Oscar.