EXCLUSIVE: When controversial French sensation Blue Is The Warmest Color won the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, it was expected to be a major player in the upcoming Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. Now it’s ineligible to compete and not even impassioned pleas from Sundance Selects, its American distributor, have done the trick. This unexpected development as first reported on Deadline is due to its October 9th French opening. Local distributor Wild Bunch will not change the date in order to comply with an arcane Academy rule that says each film must have opened in the country of origin by the end of September. Now Sundance Selects/IFC Films President Jonathan Sehring who picked up the U.S. rights to Blue in Cannes is very disappointed that this decision appears irreversible. “I talked to them about it and said it was a missed opportunity if you don’t qualify it. So they actually were going to do a qualification run in the town where it was shot in Northern France,” Sehring tells me. “But ultimately the  French governing body said no. It had to be a wide release in order for it to qualify and so [Wild Bunch] called and said ‘We don’t want  to move off our date. We have a great date.’ It’s unfortunate.”

Although it won’t help Blue this year, Sehring hopes the Academy will deep-six the September 30th eligibility date and change it in the future to be more reflective of the realities of the international film industry. “It’s a global business right now and [it’s not good] to hold the Foreign Language titles to a September 30th date. This present Academy administration has been really great about re-visiting things that don’t really make sense and I’m just hoping that will happen.” However as a distributor he does fully understand the Wild Bunch decision and its box office potential in France. “What could be better than that for them? If the French want to choose it as next year’s title I can always hope there, but unfortunately it didn’t work out in terms of qualification,” he said.

The problem is Sundance Selects has decided to release the film on October 25th and waiting a full year for a Foreign Language Oscar bid makes zero sense in terms of the financial and prestige value to the film, not to mention the confusion it could cause if Blue were to snag nominations in other categories this year. It also will be in the running for a Golden Globe and critics groups awards which don’t play by the Academy’s rigid, often controversial rules for Foreign Language films. Sundance Selects plans to send the screener  to Academy members and could stand a shot in directing (for Abdellatif Kechiche) , writing and acting categories  for supporting actress Lea Seydoux and lead actress Adele Exarchopoulos. Of the latter’s work he says, “it is the most remarkable performance I have ever seen on screen”.

Despite the explicit nature of the sex scenes in the story of an intense Lesbian love affair Sehring thinks the film will do well regardless and said the company chose the October 25th U.S. release date to be in concert with the French opening and to take advantage of the Fall festival circuit. It has been submitted for consideration to Telluride, Toronto and New York and can be expected to be a hot title at one – or all of them. The movie would almost certainly receive an NC-17 rating but Sundance Selects has not yet decided if they will submit it to the MPAA (they aren’t a member) or simply go out unrated. Those internal discussions are still going on but Sehring  said ultimately they are likely to submit.

Ironically Sehring has been down this road before with IFC Films, sister company to Selects. His 2007 IFC release, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, another Palme d’Or winning movie was submitted by Romania but famously snubbed by the greater Academy committee that votes. It led then- Foreign Language committee head Mark Johnson to instigate a new rule to give his smaller Executive Committee the opportunity to put three films, generally those with strong international awards credentials, into the mix to avoid future embarrassments like that omission.  Now that Johnson has just been returned to the Board Of Governors there could be a sympathetic ear for Sehring – and he’s hopeful. Isn’t it embarrassing to the Academy that this film, selected by an Academy-member heavy jury in Cannes led by Steven Spielberg, is eligible for a Golden Globe Foreign Language prize but not  the Oscar?

“The Academy is the Academy. I don’t think they are embarrassed by anybody. Look I have been frustrated by the Academy many times, been very vocal about it. That’s the way the rules are written, but like I said they have been very good about re-visiting the rules that don’t make sense. They have been great. What am I going to do? Whine and complain? If they want to re-visit it they will,”  he said.

Looking on the bright side, Sundance Selects does have the likely Japanese Foreign contender, Like Father, Like Son which took the Jury Prize (3rd place) in Cannes and is just the kind of humanist movie that could turn into a strong hopeful for Oscar in the category.