From left to right:
- Alfonso Cuarón – Roma (Mexico)
- Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck – Never Look Away (Germany)
- Hirokazu Kore-eda – Shoplifters (Japan)
- Nadine Labaki – Capernaum (Lebanon)
- Pawel Pawlikowski – Cold War (Poland)
1. What more could we be doing to give foreign language cinema a bigger platform in the United States?
Cuarón: We definitely need a switch of paradigm. Audiences are definitely hungry for these films, but they just don’t get the promotion. They don’t have the spaces. They’re relegated to these small little theaters. You have Cold War competing with Mega Avengers 5, you know? And by the way, I enjoy tentpole movies. I want to do tentpole movies. But I want all movies to co-exist.
Henckel von Donnersmarck: I think it would have to start at the school level. Perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst idea to have schools take one day off every month to go and see a foreign film in the theater, with all the teachers and all the students. I think that could build a habit, an interest, and an openness to other cultures that would last a lifetime. And the students would love it.
Kore-eda: I feel this is the most difficult issue. I hope to absorb the experience I have gained this time in order to connect it to my next film project.
Labaki: What draws audiences to foreign language films in movie theaters is not so much the advertising, but primarily the publicity and press; interviews and stories on television, radio, in print, and especially heightened activity on social media. Foreign films need as much attention as possible. A national television show appearance of a director or star of a foreign language movie can move the needle on the box office more than any Hollywood studio film, because it is unique and different from the normal interviews people see every day on these shows.
Pawlikowski: In Europe it’s not an issue. We are all foreign. As regards the European Film Awards, there’s no one dominant language among the nominated films. The cinemagoing culture in the US is different. You have a billion-dollar film industry and a broad mass of cinemagoers who don’t seem too terribly interested in foreign parts, unless there is an American angle, and sadly I don’t see this changing any time soon. As regards the Academy, it seems to be on the right path. The fact that two foreign language films have gatecrashed the main categories shows that it’s becoming more aware of foreign cinema. This may have something to do with the fact that the Academy has opened up to more members from abroad.
2. The Foreign Language Oscar category rewards a director who is considered the author of their work, whereas the main Best Picture category gives recognition to the producer. What’s your relationship with your producers?
Cuarón: My producers were absolutely fundamental to me on Roma. And it’s not just about carrying the ship through production, but also the whole life that you’re going to give your film later on, in terms of not only the marketing and distribution, but also the message you’re sending with your film.
Henckel von Donnersmarck: I had four producers, and my relationship is very different with each one of them. The first-billed is my partner in Pergamon Films, Jan Mojto, who also financed my film The Lives of Others, and many other highly-visible German films. He is that rarest of breeds: an intellectual and a great businessman all in one. Then there are Quirin Berg and Max Wiedemann who have been my friends since film school, when they produced a short film for my brother and I saw how incredibly good they were at making things happen. They had never produced a theatrical feature before The Lives of Others, but have since built Wiedemann & Berg into an important German production company. The fourth producer is Christiane, my wife. She is a copyright lawyer by training, and actually taught Max and Quirin copyright law in film school. Without her, nothing would be possible.
Kore-eda: During the past five years I have built a continuing relationship with my producers, allowing me to increase the pace of my filmmaking.
Labaki: The main producer of Capernaum is my husband, Khaled Mouzanar. He has been a true collaborator. He created this familial, organic homemade approach to the whole production, allowed me to work with the least concessions possible—taking my time in everything, improvising a lot, changing schedules non-stop, allowing reality and life to intrude a lot in the process. All of the different aspects of the production were executed by him, from financing, to producing, to post-producing and even distributing. He had to put our home on mortgage without telling me to start the film; this is what happens when your producer is also a great, crazy artist. The result is a very strong, collaborative relationship that gave me wings during the whole process.
Pawlikowski: I’ve worked with Tanya [Seghatchian] and Ewa [Puszczyńska] before. They both know my eccentric working methods, and give me a lot of elbow room to really handmake the film, which is the way I like to work.
3. What have you learned from your Oscar journeys? What advice would you give your fellow filmmakers?
Cuarón: It’s not in your hands. It’s so great that these films are not only being celebrated, but offered the microphone that awards season provides. So my advice? Just relax and enjoy the ride. And don’t be lured in for the wrong reasons. Hollywood is amazing, and I’m very grateful to Hollywood, but it also brings out the wrong reasons for doing things in you, and such fantastic, specific voices can sometimes be lured by something that they shouldn’t be doing.
Henckel von Donnersmarck: From what I’ve heard, filmmakers in our category are a little concerned, under the new rules, if Academy members will even see the all the nominated movies before voting. But I’ve been a member for over 10 years now; I’ve known Academy members to play by the rules. I don’t think people will cast a vote on Foreign Language Film without having seen all five nominees.
Kore-eda: It might be the showbusiness aspect of films.
Labaki: I’ve learned the importance of sharing my experience, talking about it in Q&As and with the press. It is very important for this film because of the message that it carries. It is important to have a platform and an arena to echo its cause as far and big as possible, and actually realizing that you are in the capital of cinema where whatever you say reaches the whole world. This is an extraordinary and blessed opportunity.
Pawlikowski: Your film is what it is. Do your best to explain it to audiences. But don’t let yourself be driven crazy by all the fuss; don’t take any of it personally. So much of it is about PR strategies, about the mood of the moment, the politics and the insane amounts of money spent on promotion. The Oscars are a great ride and a great platform to show your film, but as for its real value, time will always be the best judge.