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European Film Promotion and the Hunt for the Foreign Language Oscar

Every year, the submission for Best Foreign Language entries from around the world seems to grow larger and more difficult to navigate. For the 91st edition of the Academy Awards, 89 countries submitted entries with 87 of them being accepted (among the newcomers in 2018 are Malawi and Niger, while Cuba and Kyrgyzstan’s selections didn’t make the list). Academy voters are expected to watch at least a third of the running time of each entry. And like every other category, voters are drawn to whatever’s been receiving the most buzz. Although films which have taken home major awards across the year’s festival circuit certainly elevates voter interest (Japan’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, or Mexico’s Golden Lion winner Roma, for instance), it doesn’t necessarily translate into an Oscar nomination. Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences only provides one screening of each film, an organization which has helped elevate many of more obscured international entries is European Film Promotion (EFP), which organizes special screenings for European submissions taking place around the same time as the American Film Market (AFM). Directors, producers, and cast members arrive amid voting season to introduce and speak on their film entries to assist in the promotion of their country’s selected submissions. Founded in 1997, the EFP remains the only network of international organizations promoting European cinema worldwide with representatives from 38 organizations across 37 European countries.

For the 2018 session, EFP has been advocating for 25 Euro submissions, including Austria (The Waldheim Waltz), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Never Leave Me), Bulgaria (Omnipresent), Croatia (The Eighth Commissioner), Czech Republic (Winter Flies), Finland (Euthanizer), France (Memoir of War), Georgia (Namme), Greece (Polyxeni), Iceland (Woman at War), Italy (Dogman), Kosovo (The Marriage), Latvia (To Be Continued), Lithuania (Wonderful Losers: A Different World), Luxembourg (Gutland), Montenegro (Iskra), The Netherlands (The Resistance Banker), Norway (What Will People Say), Poland (Cold War), Portugal (Pilgrimage), Romania (I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians), Spain (Champions), Sweden (Border), Switzerland (Eldorado), UK (I Am Not a Witch).

Germany’s Never Look Away is absent from the EFP lineup as the Oscar promotion is being handled by US distributor Sony Pictures Classics. However, there are many international heavy hitters mixed in with several debuting artists and relative newcomers. Of the festival standouts here are Cannes winners Dogman, Cold War, and Border, while I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians and Winter Flies took home Best Picture and Director out of Karlovy Vary, respectively. If Sweden’s and Finland’s entry both pose as potential provocations in a sea of serious-minded competitors, the ability for voters’ wider access to dark horse darlings remains a priceless opportunity for items such as these which have been heretofore marketed towards particular audiences.

Likewise, perhaps the most crucial aspect of EFP is as a conduit for countries with less powerful or recently developing film industries. For instance, the importance of EFP’s influence cannot be ignored as it allows for items like Zaza Urushadze’s Tangerines as chance to be seen (which ended up snagging an Oscar nod in 2014). From the 2018 EFP crop, it remains to be seen how several of these items which haven’t traveled across major European and North American festival circuits might spark an interest in Academy voters, but the assistance of EFP has allowed for several uncharted films an opportunity at deserving distinction, among them a haunting film from Georgia with Zaza Khalvashi’s Namme, the first genre film from Montenegro with Iskra, and a purposeful LGBTQ dramedy from Kosovo with The Marriage.

I had the opportunity to moderate Q+As with the following cast and crew for EFP’s 2018 session, including Javier Fesser and Athenea Mata for Champions; Teemu Nikki, Jani Poso and Hannamarija Nikander for Euthanizer; Zaza Khlavashi, Sulkhan Turmanidze and Mariska Diasmidze for Namme; Olmo Omerzu and Jiri Konecny for Winter Flies; Markus Imhoof for Eldorado; and Gojko Berkuljan and Marika Nikcevic for Iskra.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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