Oscar: Foreign-Language Film Award

The Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar has always been one of the most problematic and controversial categories, as a result of the rules and politics that govern this field.  How does the system work? 

Each country’s equivalent of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences submits one national film for award consideration.  This year, close to 70 countries have submitted entries for the Foreign-Language Oscar, which has huge impact on the career of the director, as well as the commercial success of the winning film.


Once submitted, a screening committee, which consists of about 400 Academy members (7 percent of the entire membership), is broken down into three subgroups, each asked to screen 16 or 17 films.


The screenings take place at the Academy on weekday evenings or weekends over a brief period.  Unlike the other categories, the deadline for foreign-language submission is in late November, not the last day of the calendar year. 


Each member then ranks the films numerically.   Members must view at least 70 percent of the films assigned to their subgroup, or their ratings are not included in the selection of the 5 nominated pictures.  The 5 films receiving the highest scores are the official nominees, announced the same day as the other categories; this year on Thursday, Jan 22.


Critics have raised their concerns over the composition of the committee and the restrictions placed on all Academy members to qualify to vote.  While it is easy to join the committee—you just have to volunteer—there are a few obstacles you must overcome to make your vote count.


A member can vote for the final selection only if he or she has seen 70 percent of the films.  All official screenings are at the Academy Theater. And while credit is given for films previously seen at festivals or in screening rooms, the final voters are not permitted to view the film on video or DVD.  This means that, ultimately, a very small number of Academy voters determine which foreign-language film are nominated and eventually win.