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09 August 2014

The Philippine Entry for the 87th Oscars (2015)

Update (Sept. 4, 2014): To see Brun's choice, click this.

Right after the Cinemalaya Film Festival, discussions about the Oscars start. Which film should the country send as our official entry? In the past, four Cinemalaya films were chosen as our entries for the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category. The first was Auraeus Solito’s “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” in 2006, although equal credit should be given to the scriptwriter of the film, Michiko Yamamoto. The other three films were Marlon Rivera’s “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank” (2011), Jun Robles Lana’s “Bwakaw” (2012) and Hannah Espia’s “Transit” (2013). Unfortunately, since we first submitted our first entry in 1953 with Manuel Conde’s “Genghis Khan,” the country has not earned a single nomination.

This year, the powers-that-be are once again tasked to select an entry. The big question is: “Should we send one?” Personally, my answer is “no,” but then again, there is no harm in trying. I think it is better if the Philippines opt to be absent in the Oscars, until they miss us, if they ever do.

The Curious Case of “On the Job”

To be real, a foreign film needs a backing from an American film distribution company to stand a chance. In recent years, Sony Pictures distributed two Oscar winning foreign films, “Amour” (2012) and “A Separation” (2011). Having a theatrical run in the United States is also an advantage. Last year, “OTJ” was showing in American cinemas days before the Film Academy of the Philippines chose “Transit” as our entry. “OTJ” also received a “critic’s pick” moniker by New York Times critic Jennette Catsoulis. Although, I think “Transit” is more superior to “OTJ,” but as many of us know, sometimes what is good “on paper” eclipses what is "really good." A thumbs up from a New York Times critic is “good on paper.”

In hindsight, “OTJ” would have been a better choice as our entry for the sake of practicality. The Best Foreign Language Film race is not always about the best films, but the films that get much attention. People do not call it Hollywood for nothing.

Most winning films have also done their rounds in many international film festivals, such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice and so forth. Foreign films need momentum.  Our entry should have enough credits on its resume before we submit it to the Oscars.  If you learn about the real process in selecting the five nominees, you will be frustrated. Primarily, the people who are tasked to choose the five nominees among 80 or so entries from around the world are mostly retired filmmakers, or those who have enough time to screen countless films. Jurors do not even watch all the films.  Can you watch 70 films in a short period of time? The first rounds of jurors are divided into groups; each group will watch a set of films, and they score the films in their group. The films that get the highest scores will make up the nine shortlisted films. From the shortlisted films, the five official Oscar nominees will be chosen.  In a way, the whole process sometimes boils down to luck coupled with marketing.

In addition, the Oscars are all about Hollywood narrative. Experimental and non-traditional narrative may never impress the judges. Unless we are submitting something very Fellini, very Truffaut, very Bergman, very Cuaron, our Brillante Mendozas and Lav Diazes may never have a chance. FYI: Last year's winner, Italy's "The Great Beauty" is very Felleni. 

Possible Contenders

Several Cinemalaya films are possible contenders to be selected as our entry. However, these films must have at least “seven consecutive days of screening in a commercial cinema for the purpose of earning profit for the producer or exhibitor.” (Source:  Lav Diaz’s latest film “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon,” which won Best Picture at the 67th Locarno International Film Festival, is a possible entry and the film is reported to have a regular screening in September (updated: Aug 30, 2014)  but the film only had special screenings, and never consecutive days. "Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan," another film from Diaz, will have a 7-day run in cinemas on September 10 to 16, and if the film completes its run, the movie also qualifies.

Outstanding Cinemalaya films this year like the very French “Dagitab,” the elegant “Mariquina,” the historical “Sundalong Kanin,” the miserablist “Children’s Show” and the docufiction "Bwaya" must also have a consecutive seven-day run in commercial cinemas to qualify.

Two upcoming films are also possible contenders. Jun Robles Lana’s “Barber’s Tale” starring Eugene Domingo was exhibited will be shown on August 13, and it ran for more than 7 consecutive days. Lastly, Perci Intalan-Lana’s  “Dementia” will be shown on September 24.

“Barber’s Tale” is ahead of the pact after winning (updated: August 30, 2014) has won several awards in international festivals such as Best Director for Jun Robles Lana at the 2014 Madrid International Film Festival, Best Actress for Eugene Domingo at the 2013 Tokyo International Film Festival, and she was nominated as Best Actress at the 2014 Asian Film Awards. “Barber’s Tales” was also awarded 3rd Place – Audience Award at the 2014 Udine Far East Film Festival.

The deadline for submission to the Oscars is on September 30, 2014. The exact rule is as follows:

The motion picture must be first released in the country submitting it no earlier than October 1, 2012, and no later than September 30, 2013, and be first publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days in a commercial motion picture theater for the profit of the producer and exhibitor. (Source:

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