The 93rd Academy Awards, set to be held in April 2021, have a number of strong contenders from around the world in the International Feature Film Award category, including Jallikattu (Lijo Jose Pellissery) from India, Funny Boy (Deepa Mehta) from Canada, and Sincerely Yours, Dhaka (11 emerging directors) from Bangladesh. In a first for the Oscars, there are also submissions from Sudan, Suriname, and Lesotho.
The Oscars had to be rescheduled this time from February 2021 to April 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the eligibility period has also been extended by two months, from October to December 2020.
The International Feature Film category was earlier named the Best Foreign Film, but was changed in 2019. Larry Karaszewski and Diane Weyermann, co-chairs of the International Feature Film Committee had then stated that “the reference to ‘Foreign’ is outdated within the global filmmaking community,” and that revising the word to ‘International’ would promote “a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking, and the art of film as a universal experience.”
Bong-Joon-Hoo’s Parasite was the first film to win the award in the renamed category in 2018.
Here’s a look at some of the contenders for this year:
India- Jallikattu (Lijo Jose Pellissery)
India’s official entry for Oscars 2021 is the 2019 Malayalam film Jallikattu. The Lijo Jose Pellissery directorial is a visceral, disorienting, man vs animal film that has more to it than the traditional game it is named after. It starts with a bull, who runs amok in a small village in Kerala, and every man in the village run after it to capture it. While Jallikattu as a game is used as a running theme in the film, the focus is on human greed and what that entails.
The film premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. It was also showcased at the 24th Busan International Film Festival. In India, the film released in October, 2019. Pellissery was awarded the Best Director trophy at the 50th International Film Festival of India.
Canada- Funny Boy (Deepa Mehta)
The film is based on Shyam Selvadurai’s 1994 novel of the same name. Set in Sri Lanka against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, the story revolves around the sexual awakening of a young boy. The film will feature Arush Nand, Brandon Ingram, Nimmi Harasgama, Ali Kazmi, Agam Darshi, Seema Biswas, and Shivantha Wijesinha in pivotal roles.
Funny Boy will release in selected theatres in a few cities in Canada and will be released worldwide on Netflix on December 10.
Bangladesh- Sincerely Yours, Dhaka (11 directors)
Dhaka is a collection of 11 shorts set in Bangladesh’s capital city by 11 emerging filmmakers: Nuhash Humayun, Syed Ahmed Shawki, Rahat Rahman Joy, M.D. Robiul Alam, Golam Kibria Farooki, Mir Mukarram Hossain, Tanvir Ahsan, Mahmudul Islam, Abdullah Al Noor, Krishnendu Chattopadhyay and Syed Saleh Ahmed Sobhan. The anthology film was nominated for the New Currents Award at the Busan Film Festival.
Hong Kong- Better Days (Derek Tsang)
Better Days will be the highest grossing film in the Oscar race this year, having made $225 million worldwide ($223 million in China). Directed by actor-turned-director Derek Tsang, the film revolves around a teenage girl who has been bullied and who goes on to form an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man. The man protects her from her assailants, while she copes with the pressure of final examinations.
Better Days was originally scheduled to debut in the Generation 14Plus section at Berlinale 2019, before it was pulled just days before the festival started, with speculation that it had not passed China’s censorship process.
Indonesia- Impetigore (Joko Anwar)
Indonesia announced on November 11 that the 2019 horror film Impetigore (Perempuan Tanah Jahanam) would be its official entry for the Oscars. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is the only horror film to have won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Other horror films that have earned a nomination include, The Exorcist (1973), Jaws (1975), The Sixth Sense (1999), Black Swan (2010), and Get Out (2017).
Directed and written by Joko Anwar, the film revolves around the mystery of a girl who returns from the city to the village with her best friend in search of her inheritance, unaware of the danger that awaits her.
Impetigore won the Méliès International Festivals Federation Award for Best Asian Film at the 2020 Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea, and dominated the nominations at the 2020 Indonesian Film Festival with 17 nominations.
Malaysia- Roh (Emir Ezwan)
Malaysia’s entry is also a horror feature with Emir Ezwan’s Roh. Set in the past, the film centres on a family who is visited by a strange little girl with a frightening prediction.
Lesotho- This is Not a Burial, it’s a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese)
Lesotho will make its Oscar debut with This is Not a Burial, it’s a Resurrection in 2021. Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s feature revolves around an 80-year-old widow whose village is threatened by forced resettlement due to reservoir construction, which leads to the village rising in protest. The film debuted at the Biennale College at Venice 2019, and then went on an extensive international festival tour, which included the Sundance festival, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and Göteborg. It also won prizes at Athens, Durban, Guanajuato, Haifa, Hamptons, Hong Kong, La Roche-sur-Yon, Montclair, Montréal, Portland, Reyjavik, Sundance and Taipei festivals.
Sudan- You Will Die at Twenty (Amjad Abu Alala).
This film centres a young man who turns 19, and receives a prediction from his village’s holy man that he will die when he reaches 20.
Suriname- Wiren (Ivan-Tai-Apin)
Suriname’s official entry Wiren revolves around a young deaf boy who fights discrimination against the people with disabilities in his country.