International film-makers are optimistic about the prospects for foreign-language films in the US - but they see pitfalls in working in Hollywood themselves. Those were two of the messages coming from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' symposium (February 24) with directors of the nominees for the foreign-language film Oscar.
This year's standing-room-only pre-Oscar event at the Academy's Beverly Hills headquarters featured directors Susanne Bier (Denmark's After The Wedding), Guillermo Del Toro (Mexico's Pan's Labyrinth), Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck (Germany's The Lives Of Others) and Deepa Mehta (Canada's Water). Rachid Bouchareb, director of Days Of Glory (Algeria), was travelling to Los Angeles at the time of the symposium.
Von Donnersmarck - who won the Oscar the next day - suggested the $32m-and-counting North American take for Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth has raised the bar for foreign-language films in the US. "Now Guillermo's film is doing so incredibly well, we've run out of excuses," Von Donnersmarck joked. "I used to say, 'We can't expect (The Lives Of Others) to do so much because after all it is subtitled.' (But Del Toro) made $30m with subtitles.
"It also shows," he added, "that somehow America has become more accepting of foreign-language films."
Von Donnersmarck caused a stir, however, when he suggested foreign films could be helped in the US not just by the use of more nuanced subtitles but also by being made available in dubbed versions as well.
Dubbing, he said, "can be a real art form. In Italy or France you can see films that have been made completely acceptable through perfect dubbing."
In response, Bier insisted that, "Human beings have voices and you can't just change them." And Del Toro said that in Spanish-speaking countries dubbing "has horrible connotations", such as censorship through inaccurate dubbing in Franco's Spain.
The two directors who have already made films in North America had some words of caution for the two who have yet to make their US debuts.
Bier, who is working on her first English-language film Things We Lost In The Fire, warned against the "remoteness" that can find its way into big-budget Hollywood productions.
And Del Toro described his experience on Mimic, his first US film, as "the existential equivalent to picking up the soap in prison". But he added: "Did that stop me from checking the showers ever again' No."
THE DIRECTORS - SELECTED FILMS
Susanne Bier: The One And Only (1999); Open Hearts (2002), Brothers (2004)
Rachid Bouchareb: Baton Rouge (1985); Dust Of Life (1995)
Guillermo Del Toro: Cronos (1994); Mimic (1997); The Devil's Backbone (2001); Hellboy (2004)
Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck: Dobermann (short, 1999); The Crusader (short, 2002)
Deepa Mehta: Sam & Me (1991); Camilla (1993); Fire (1997); Earth (1999); Bollywood/Hollywood (2003)