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Foreign Film Race Pt 4: Female Directors and Oscar Submissions

Everything you wanted to know about the foreign language film race ...but were afraid to ask*

Toni Erdman, one of 14 films in the Foreign race directed by women, is widely expected to be nominatedPt 1 All the trailers -Albania to Italy
Pt 2 All the trailers - Japan to Yemen
Pt 3 Debut directors

Though Hollywood has an appaling track record when it comes to female representation behind the camera, other countries actually fare a lot better in this regard. Oh sure, it's still not as easy as it is for the men, but each and every year we see several female filmmakers from various countries around the Globe chosen as the best representative of their country's cinema. Now try to imagine how rarely that would happen if the USA had to export only one film to represent them annually. Hard to imagine isn't it? The only times it might conceivably have happened would have been Lost in Translation (2003) which lost best picture to a New Zealand production or The Hurt Locker (2009) which actually won best picture.

Denmark's PAW (1959) and Italy's SEVEN BEAUTIES (1976) were Oscar firsts for women

The 20 Oscar Nominated Foreign Language Films Directed By Women (and this year's hopefuls) after the jump. If you've ever wanted to do that 52 films by women viewing challenge some great ideas follow...

2015 Mustang (France) by Denis Gamze Erguven
2011 In Darkness (Poland) by Agnieska Holland*
2010 In a Better World (Denmark) by Susanne Bier - winner*
2009 The Milk of Sorrow (Peru) by Claudia Losa
2006 Water (Canada) by Deepa Mehta
        After the Wedding (Denmark) by Susanne Bier
2005 Don't Tell (Italy) by Cristina Comencini
2002 Zus & Zo (The Netherlands) by Paula van der Oest
        Nowhere in Africa (Germany) by Caroline Link - winner*
2000 The Taste of Others (France) Agnes Jaoui
1997 Beyond Silence (German) by Caroline Link 
1996 A Chef in Love (Georgia) by Nana Dzhordzhadze 
        The Other Side of Sunday (Norway) by Berit Nesheim
1995 Antonia's Line (The Netherlands) by Marleen Gorris - winner 
1988 Salaam Bombay! (India) by Mira Nair 
1985 Angry Harvest (Germany) by Agnieska Holland
1984 Camilla (Argentina) by María Luisa Bemberg
1983 Entre Nous (France) by Diane Kurys
1976 Seven Beauties (Italy) by Lina Wertmuller**
1959 Paw (Denmark) by Astrid Henning-Jensen **

* Academy Darlings: Caroline Link (Germany), Susanne Bier (Denmark), and Agnieska Holland (German/Poland) are the only women who have had more than one film nominated in the foreign language film category though Paula van der Oest (The Netherlands) has another shot at joining them this year with her new film Tonio. Holland would surely be the leader with three had Germany submitted the very popular Europa Europa in its year, 1991 (she was nominated for its screenplay and it won the Globe for Best Foreign Film)

** Record Firsts: Lina Wertmuller was the first woman nominated for Best Director at the Oscars (for this same film which curiously lost Best Foreign Film); Astrid Henning-Jensen (1914-2002) was the first woman to helm a film nominated in the foreign film category and she did it in the fourth year of the category's existence! (Notice that Scandinavia accounts for 20% of the female nominees in this category)

This year 85 films will compete for the nominations and 15 of those were made by women. So brava to the following 15 for making movies that were so well received in their home countries that they might be up for an Oscar in a few months.


Photograph by Vittorio Zunino

Maren Ade 
Toni Erdmann for Germany

Everyone loves Toni Erdmann, her estranged and strange father/daughter comedy. Jason called it "astonishing" right here at TFE. This is Ade's third feature as a director. She also produces -- you'll see her name on some Miguel Gomes pictures like Tabu and the Arabian Nights trilogy. 

Khadija Al-Salami
I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced for Yemen

This year marks the first time Yemen has ever submitted a film for consideration in the Oscar Foreign Language Film race. Before Nojoom, this Yemeni writer/director/producer who resides in Paris had directed 3 documentaries and 1 narrative feature.

Pietra Brettkelly
A Flickering Truth for New Zealand

We've already reviewed her documentary about film preservation in Afghanistan. This is her 5th documentary. Though at least one documentary film is submitted every year in the foreign film category only two have ever been nominated (Cambodia's The Missing Picture and Israel's Waltz With Bashir). But might we see her film also qualifying for the Documentary race?


Kadri Kõusaar
Mother for Estonia

We reviewed her deadpan comic mystery film about a mother and her comatose son. Mother is the third feature for this 36 year old. Her debut Magnus (2007) previously played Cannes Un Certain Regard section

Laha Mebow
Hang in There, Kids! for Taiwan

She made one previous feature under her Chinese name but this time she went by her aboriginal name since the film is about Aboriginal children. [Thank you to John in the comments for clearing up the confusion about her filmography - Editor] 

Laila Pakalnina
Dawn for Latvia

This 54 year old director is quite prolific having made dozens of shorts and seven features in her 25 years of filmmaking. This one about a young man in an Latvian collective farm is an homage to Eastern Bloc cinema. This is the first of her films to be submitted for Best Foreign Language Film.

Manane Rodriguez
Breadcrumbs for Uruguay

This 62 year old director has made a handful of South American and Spanish features as well as documentaries and television in her home country. 

Maria Schrader
Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe for Austria

This German actress/director previously co-starred in the Golden Globe nominated foreign film Aimee & Jaguar (1999) and in the Oscar nominated In Darkness (2011). This biopic of a famous Jewish writer (the man who inspired Oscar favorite The Grand Budapest Hotel) is her third feature behind the camera.

Athina Rachel Tsangari
Chevalier for Greece

She first broke through with Attenberg in 2010. Chevalier (reviewed) is her third directorial feature and has won several prizes including Best Film at last year's London Film Festival. Tsangari also produces (see Dogtooth, Before Midnight, etcetera)

Paula van der Oest
Tonio for The Netherlands

Van der Oest is no stranger to the Oscars. The Netherlands have sent a film by this prolific woman three times to represent them. On both previous occasions her films fared well. Zus & Zo was nominated in 2002 and Accused made the finalist list for 2014. Will they like Tonio as much? The 51 year old director splits her time between directing movies for film and writing and directing TV in her home country.

Julia Vargas Weise
Sealed Cargo for Bolivia

This is her third feature. 

Please Note: There are 4 additional female directors in the race
The other women helming Foreign Film contenders this year are all making their narrative feature debuts so we've already introduced them in the previous "debut directors" post: Russudan Glujidze (Georgia), Mai Masri (Jordan), Tunku Mona Riza (Malaysia), and Elite Zexer (Israel)

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Reader Comments (12)

Paw is a wonderful film that is sadly near-impossible to see. I caught it at a one-time-only showing at the Berlin Film Festival in the Children's Sidebar over twenty years ago. I was very impressed but I have never since seen it shown anywhere - tv or theater. Really worth tracking down. It's a wonderful movie for children about the black son of a Danish sea captain who comes to live in Denmark and tackles racial prejudice with honesty without getting too heavy - it is aimed at children.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Ken -- i would love to see it. I have long thought a series about past nominees in this category would be fascinating but so many films are so hard to locate.

October 13, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

There's actually a fifteenth woman. Khadija Al-Salami, director of the entry from Yemen

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermarco70go

marco -- ooh. thanks for the catch.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nathaniel - Maybe when Filmstruck is up and running we'll get more opportunities to see obscure foreign films. I've tried to keep an eye out for foreign film nominees since, well, forever. 1959 is one year I've been lucky enough to see all 5 of the nominees, and it's been worth the effort because the two least-known nominees (at least in America), Paw and the Netherlands' Village on the River are also my two favorites.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Nathaniel, thanks so much for this post. I really appreciate this focus on both foreign language films and the contributions of these talented directors. It's inspiring to read and learn about these women.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterzig

Nathaniel: Thank you for this. I'm ashamed to say I've only seen one of the female-directed winners (In a Better World). Great that there are 15 female directors' films in the running this year. (And thank you for using the term "female filmmakers" rather than the grammatically clunky "women filmmakers". I've never understood why "women" is so often used as an adjective. Unless I'm failing to understand a significant reason?)

I'll also say that I've for a long time been confused as to why the 1976 Oscar didn't go to Seven Beauties, which clearly the Academy loved, giving it three other top nominations. Even Cousin Cousine, a big hit Stateside and a Best Actress and Original Screenplay nominee, would have been a more obvious winner than the film that did win, the rather flat Black and White in Colour.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

I can explain the name discrepancy in the filmography of the director of Taiwan's submission--she made her previous film under her Chinese name, but this film under her Aboriginal name (appropriate, since the film is about Aboriginal children).

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

John -- thank you!

October 14, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

And what about LGBT movies? Only from Venezuela?
I suppose that you might add "Julieta" and Dolan's movie but I've seen the first one and heard many about the second one - and LGBT elements there aren't that important, are they?
Anything additional I've never heard of?
Last year we had movies from Greece, Ireland and Thailand.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSomeone

someone -- yeah, we dont seem to have them this year.

October 14, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I saw Paula van der Oest's Tonio last Tuesday. I do not see how this will not be short-listed or even nominated. It's maybe the best film The Netherlands has ever submitted. It's certainly one of the best the country has ever produced.

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

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