‘First They Killed My Father’: Angelina Jolie film faces Oscar hurdles

Angelina Jolie screened her new film “First They Killed My Father” at Telluride on Sept. 2 and received a warm reception for this biopic, which chronicles the horrific childhood of Loung Ung under the deadly Khmer Rouge in 1970s Cambodia. Jolie worked with Ung, who is now a human rights activist, to adapt her 2000 memoir of the same name. One of Jolie’s children, Maddox, is Cambodian by birth, and she says he was the one who encouraged her to make this movie as he wanted to know more about his heritage.

With strong reviews for the film, it is clearly an Oscar contender especially in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. Or is it?

The academy sets out detailed rules regarding this award. It defines a foreign language film as “a feature-length motion picture (defined as over 40 minutes) produced outside the United States of America with a predominantly non-English dialogue track.”  “First They Killed My Father” clearly meets the language and length requirements and should qualify as produced outside the USA as Jolie, who is credited as a producer, is a dual citizen with Cambodia. That fact should also satisfy the requirement that “the submitting country must certify that creative control of the motion picture was largely in the hands of citizens or residents of that country.”

Acclaimed Cambodian documentary filmmaker Rithy Panh is a producer as is Ted Sarandos, who is the chief content chair of Netflix which is distributing the film both online and theatrically on Sept. 15, a few days after it screens at the Toronto film festival. This high profile for “First They Killed My Father” may bring it a wide audience but could hurt it with Oscar voters.

Let’s assume Cambodia selects “First They Killed My Father” as its entry at this year’s Academy Awards. It will face off against upwards of 90 other films for one of the five Foreign Language Film nominations. These are arrived at by a two-step process that will begin after the Oct. 2 deadline for countries to submit entries.

First, the several hundred academy members of the screening committee will be divided into groups and required to watch a number of the submissions over a two-month period that ends in mid December. They will rate them from 6 to 10 and their top six vote-getters will make it to the next round, as will three films added by the 20 members of the executive committee. The latter tend to be films far less accessible than “First They Killed My Father.”

Those nine semi-finalists will then be screened three per day beginning in early January by select committee members in both New York and Hollywood who will then vote for the final five which will be revealed, along with the other Oscar nominations on Jan. 23, 2018.

While we aren’t predicting the nominations in this category yet, we are forecasting the finalists in the top eight categories, including Best Picture. Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced.

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