Sony Pictures Classics (SPC) is one of the leading distributors of foreign and art-house films in America. This year they have three films nominated at the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language film category: “In Darkness,” the Polish Holocaust-themed film by director Agnieszka Holland (“Europa, Europa”); “Footnote,” the Israeli award-winning film from second time nominee Joseph Cedar (“Beaufort,” “Time of Favor”), and the front-runner Iranian Golden Globe winner, “A Separation,” by Asghar Farhadi.
With three frontrunning films out of five in this category, chances are SPC is representing the winner. Yet, the only film of the three SPC nominees to get a significant public run is “A Separation.”
SPC is not releasing “Footnote” in New York publicly until March, long after the Oscars. And though “In Darkness” opened in New York on February 10, that is not enough lead time to create Oscar buzz.
Unlike other categories, Academy voters for Best Foreign Language Film need to affirm that they have seen all five nominated films. Limited opportunities and critical acclaim will diminish the Oscar chances of unreleased, or recently released films.
Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of SPC feels that within this category, release does not always correlate with awards, nor would the award mean success in the box office. “It did not make sense to open Joseph (Cedar)’s film at the end of the year, because of the competition.” Instead SPC is hoping to time the release of “Footnote” to reach beyond the Jewish audience.
Barker noted that many foreign film nominees and winners do not open until later in the year. Nevertheless, when asked why he chose to release “A Separation” before the end of 2011, Barker explained, “we were told it would win best foreign film award.”
Isaac Zablocki is Senior Director of film programs at JCC Manhattan including and is the founder of the ReelAbilities Film Festival, the Other Israel Film Festival, the Israel Film Center and Cinematters: Films for Social Change.