UPDATE, writethru after Sunday 11:01 PM exclusive: Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father has been set as the Cambodian submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Deadline reported late Sunday night that confirmation of the selection was imminent, and early Monday morning the Cambodia Oscar Selection Committee made it official. The Netflix title, directed and co-written by Jolie, is about author and human rights activist Loung Ung’s life under the rule of the deadly Khmer Rouge. It premiered in Telluride and then went on to Toronto where it won strong praise. The story is told through Ung’s eyes, from the age of five, when the Khmer Rouge came to power.
First They Killed My Father’s selection as the foreign language entry marks the first time such a high-profile American director has been the representative of another country in another tongue. It is also the 6th submission ever from Cambodia where the film held a premiere in February and was released September 8 in local theaters.
Jolie said in a statement today, “This means a great deal to all of us involved in making the film. To work with local artists to bring this story forward has been a moving and humbling experience.” Added Ung, “We were together when we received the news and it was very emotional. This has been a long journey for me, and while it is personal, it is also reflective of the experience of millions of Cambodians. We are very proud to be representing Cambodia as this year’s selection and share this moment with the country.”
Since 2005, Jolie has held dual U.S./Cambodian nationality. Her passion project was shot entirely in the country with an all-local cast. According to the Khmer Times, the film has been “hailed as a technical milestone for the local film industry, with the production employing thousands of Cambodian artisans, technicians and extras.”
In the U.S., First They Killed My Father was released theatrically on September 15 in the Top 10 markets, the same day it launched globally on Netflix.
The streaming service’s Ted Sarandos was asked by Deadline’s Pete Hammond recently about plans to have this film submitted by Cambodia for the FL Oscar contest, and he said he was confident it would happen. Jolie said the fact that First They Killed My Father might be submitted by the current regime was remarkable considering some of the things going on there now including attempts to shut down some of the media. “I am a western woman and it would be amazing if they could agree to send our film (to the Academy),” she said, adding it would be a powerful and surprising message of unified support from the government. Her son Maddox, whom she adopted in Cambodia in 2002, has an executive producer credit on the movie.
Jolie produces with Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh whose 2013 The Missing Picture was nominated in the Foreign Language race. That film was an autobiographical documentary — told entirely with clay figures — about Panh’s experiences growing up under the Khmer Rouge.
Panh said today, “I am very happy, and very proud, that First They Killed My Father was selected by the Cambodia Oscar Selection Committee to represent Cambodia. Because the film is original and powerful. Because thousands of us participated in the film’s making and so, too, in writing a chapter of Cambodia’s collective history. And because this history doesn’t belong only to the Cambodia people; it is universal. Cinema also is a way to talk about the resilience and dignity of human beings.”
While there isn’t a clear line on the nationalities or places of birth of directors of the roughly 1,800 films entered in the Foreign Language category since 1956, one other U.S.-born helmer stands out: Rama Burshtein was behind the 2012 Israeli submission, Fill The Void.
Since the 1984 (57th) Awards, the rules for the category have stipulated that a submitting country “must certify that creative talent of that country exercised artistic control of the film.”
Here’s the updated rolling list of Foreign Language submissions:
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