Oscars Shake Up Voting in the Best International Feature Film Category

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New rules in what used to be Best Foreign Language Film will allow all members to choose the five nominees, and will permit streaming for the first time ever in the category

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has dramatically expanded the second round of voting for its Best International Feature Film award, the category formerly known as Best Foreign Language Film.

In emails that went to three different groups of members on Thursday, AMPAS announced that for the first time, all Academy members will be able to cast ballots to narrow down the 10 shortlisted films to five nominees, provided they have seen all 10 films on the shortlist.

In addition, members will be able to view those 10 films by streaming them on the Academy’s secure members’ website. This is a dramatic change in a category that until now had insisted that voters see films in a theater in the nominating round.

The change could allow far more voters to participate in choosing the five nominees. It could also dramatically lessen the importance of the category’s executive committee, which was created more than a decade ago to prevent the kind of embarrassing oversights that once plagued the category.

“We want to be as inclusive as we can,” International Feature Film Award Executive Committee co-chair Larry Karaszewski told TheWrap. “The films are so strong and so good that it seems unfair to limit voting to the people in New York and Los Angeles.”

The current three-step nominating process in the category was created in 2007, after a year in which volunteers from all branches of the Academy (the “general committee”) viewed all the eligible films but failed to nominate or even shortlist many of the year’s most celebrated films from overseas — including “Persepolis,” “Silent Light,” “The Orphanage” and, most egregiously, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu‘s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

A new process was designed in which the general committee would still view all the eligible films at official Academy screenings, but would only select six of the nine films on the shortlist. The hand-picked executive committee would then add three more, focusing on the kind of challenging films that might have been overlooked by the general committee.

Then three Phase 2 committees — 20 members in Los Angeles, 10 in New York and 10 in London — would watch the nine shortlisted films (which has been expanded to 10 this year) over a three-day period and choose the five nominees.

Because the Phase 2 committees were largely hand-picked and tended to have adventurous taste, their selections often seemed to be heavy on the films that had been “saved” and put on the shortlist by the executive committee. (The Academy never reveals which shortlisted films were general-committee selections and which were exec-committee saves — but, for example, “Son of Saul” and “The Great Beauty” were widely whispered to be saves that went on to win the Oscar.)

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