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Oscar's International Race Pt 1 - The Female Directors

The Academy has officially announced list of 93 contenders -- an all time record --  for this year's Best International Feature Film Oscar (submission chart here). So let's dive in! 

Last year's sole female nominee for Best International Feature, Nadine Labaki (Capernaum) is in front of the camera this time for Lebanon's new submission "1982"

by Nathaniel R

We've been tracking the just renamed foreign-language film race for so long that we love to dig in to stats a bit. You may recall that last year 20 of the 87 pictures were directed or co-directed by women. This year 28 of the 93 contenders are -- that's 30% of the list which is easily an all-time record! Here's another promising note for the future in regards to gender parity: female directors made only 2 of the nominated foreign-language films in the first quarter century of this category but things opened in the 1980s with four nominees from female directors, there were four again in the 1990s, and then seven in the 2000s. Though the 2010s have only seen five thus far, the trend is still promising; in the past four consecutive years one of the nominees has come from a female auteur:

2015 Mustang (France) by Deniz Gamze Ergüven
2016 Toni Erdmann (Germany) by Maren Ade
2017 On Body and Soul (Hungary) by Idilko Enyedi
2018 Capernaum (Lebanon) by Nadine Labaki

Will the trend continue this year? Here are the 29 women who will be trying to make that happen.

The 29 Women Competing in the Best International Feature Race
* means they co-directed their film

Zoya Akhtar -India, Gully Boy
Akhtar, a 46 year old filmmaker who studied at NYU has made six features already, more than any other woman submitted this year.  Gully Boy, a rap drama, made a mint at specialty theaters in the US this year ($5+ million!) and is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Her family is also in the movie business, her parents being screenwriters and her brother is an actor/director. She was already a member of AMPAS before India submitted her film. 

Haifaa al-Mansour - Saudi Arabia, The Perfect Candidate
She's quite famous as her home country's first female filmmaker, breaking out with Wadjda (2012) before seguewaying into English language films (Mary Shelley, Nappily Ever After). Though she now lives in California, for her fourth feature she returns to Arabic cinema with a story of a determined woman's bid for office in local elections.

Lila Alviles -Mexico, The Chambermaid
The Chambermaid is the first feature from this 37 year-old Mexican director. She was up for four Ariel Awards in Mexico but, because her film was up against the awards juggernaut Roma, she won only one: Best First Work. Kino Lorber released The Chambermaid this summer in US arthouses and it's now streaming on iTunes.

Kristine Briede* -Lithuania, Bridges of Time
She's made her feature-length debut alongside director Audrius Stony. She previously produced, wrote, or directed two shorts. Bridges of Time is a documentary about the forgotten poets of Baltic cinema. 

Gabriela Calvache -Ecuador, The Longest Night
The Longest Night is this 42 year-old's debut feature as a director. She previously worked as a producer of shorts and documentaries, though she's done some directing in the past, too.

Ravneet Sippy Chadha -Kenya, Subira
Though she was born and raised in India, Kenya is her home where she lives with her husband and children. She recently shifted from the finance industry to filmmaking. Subira is her debut feature, based on an award-winning short film of the same name that she made 12 years ago.

Sophie Deraspe -Canada, Antigone
Antigone, a modern interpretation of the Greek play, is her fourth feature. In addition to writing and directing her films, she usually serves as their cinematographer, too. She previously made Missing Victor Pellerin, Vital Signs, and The Wolves.

Mati Diop - Senegal, Atlantics
This 37 year-old made a huge and historic splash at Cannes as the first black woman in the main competition. And then she won one of the biggest prizes: Grand Prix (essentially second place). Her mesmerizing debut is about a young girl marrying for wealth and the poor boy she loves that she hasn't quite left behind, even when he leaves for sea with other struggling men.

Marianna Economou -Greece, When Tomatoes Met Wagner
For some reason IMDb lists her as having made only one feature but an internet search reveals that she made a documentary before this one called The Longest Run about children in prison, so perhaps there are others? Her submitted film is a documentary on organic tomato production that takes a poor Greek village by storm with its popularity.

May el-Toukhy - Denmark, Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts is her second feature after a few shorts and TV series and it's won a few big awards already at festivals. She's in pre-production on her third feature already. That next film will also star Trine Dyrholm (who headlines Queen of Hearts) and is called Lioness. It's a biopic of Karen Blixen -- yes, Out of Africa Blixen; watch out Meryl!

Nora Fingscheidt -Germany, System Crasher
This 36 year-old director's debut feature, about a wild child in the foster care system, is representing Germany for the Oscars. She previously made documentaries and shorts and one film that's somewhere inbetween at 47 minutes. System Crasher won the Silver Bear at Berlinale (!) among other festival prizes. 



Mag Hsu* -Taiwan, Dear Ex
This 52 year-old Taiwanese talent was previously known for television writing. She co-directed this drama about a widow and her late husband's male lover, with 34 year-old music video director Hsu Chih-Yen (pictured above). Dear Ex is now streaming on Netflix and is a real charmer. This is a debut feature for both directors.

Antoneta Kastrati -Kosovo, Zana
Zana is the first narrative feature but she's made several documentaries already. She holds a degree in journalism and studied directing at the AFI. With this debut she revisits the themes that she built her career on in documentaries and shorts: war and its survivors. 

Tamara Kotevska* -North Macedonia, Honeyland
Honeyland is one of 7 documentaries trying to get nominated this year in the International Feature category (only two have ever been nominated in this category before). It's her longform debut as she previously made shorts. Kotevska, is the youngest director competing for the International Feature race this year (she's only 26!) and she co-directed with Ljubomir Stefanov (pictured together at Sundance). Honeyland has earned over $600,000 in US theaters alone which is an extraordinary sum for a foreign language documentary on beekeepers. Well done! 

Dian Lee & Ineza Roussille* - Malaysia, M For Malaysia
You can read more about these two here

Mounia Meddour -Algeria, Papicha
Papicha is the debut for this 41 year-old filmmaker. She drew on some her own experiences for this film about a female university student in Algeria. The film is set in 1991.

Anastasiya Miroshnichenko - Belarus, Debut
This is her second documentary feature. The first was an award winner about a homeless artist. This one's on a women's prison.

Azadeh Moussavi* -Iran, Finding Farideh
She previously co-directed a documentary about the Oscar-winning Iranian film A Separation. Finding Faradeh, about a Dutch woman seeking information on her biological Iranian parents, is one of 7 documentaries submitted for this year's Best International Feature race. She co-directed with Kourosh Ataee for the Frame documentary Film group.

Sudabeh Mortezai -Austria, Joy
Joy, a tough drama about Nigerian sex workers, won the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival. It's Mortezai's second narrative feature and fourth film (two documentaries preceeded the features). This 51 year-old director was born in Germany but grew up in Iran and then studied cinema in Austria.

Genevieve Nnaji - Nigeria, Lionheart
Nnaji is a major star in Nollywood (Nigeria's large film industry). In Lionheart the 40 year old actress stays in front of the camera but also moves behind it for her directorial debut. 

Patricia Ortega -Venezuela, Being Impossible 
This 42 year-old Venezuelan talent studied film in Cuba and Germany.  Being Impossible, a drama about an intersex woman, is her second feature and has already picked up multiple prizes at queer festivals. She's already developing her third feature.  

Sonja Prosenc -Slovenia, History of Love
Another sophomore effort here. She previously directed a film called The Tree (2014) as well as a handful of shorts.

Halina Reijn -The Netherlands, Instinct
For her directorial debut this 43 year-old actress enlisted her bestie, Dutch superstar Carice van Houten (Valkyrie, Game of Thrones), for the leading role. They had previously co-starred in Paul Verhoeven's great WW II drama Black Book which was a Dutch submission for the Oscars in 2006.  Reijn also acted in the Oscar-nominated Dutch film Zus & Zo. For her debut behind the camera, she's been submitted to represent The Netherlands. Full circle!

Caylee So* -Cambodia, In the Life of Music
Born in a Thailand refugee camp and raised in the US, this 38 year-old Cambodian American filmmaker has made shorts and one documentary feature prior to this multi-generational drama submitted by Cambodia. She co-directed with Sok Visal, who previously made the trans comedy Poppy Goes to Hollywood

Antonella Sudasassi -Costa Rica, Awakening of the Ants (also known as Hormigas)
This is her feature debut and it's actually the middle part of a transmedia trilogy about female sexuality. The project also includes a short film about childhood and, in development, a documentary about older women. [Twitter]

Ines Tanovic -Bosnia, The Son
She's made two features thus far, both of which were submitted by Bosnia. The first was Our Everyday Life (2015). She is the cousin of Danis Tanovic who won the Oscar for Bosnia with No Man's Land (2001).

Maryam Touzani -Morocco, Adam
This Casablanca-based 38 year-old is making her feature directorial debut with this well-reviewed film about an unwed mother's friendship with a widow. Her husband is the filmmaker Nabil Ayouch (Horses of God, Ali Zaouz: Prince of the Streets). 

and last but not least...

Selma Vilhunen -Finland, Stupid Young Heart
This Finnish director competed for 2013's live action short Oscar with Do I Have To Take Care of Everything? She's one of two directors in this year's International Film race to have been Oscar-nominated in the live-action short category prior to competing here (the other is Tanel Toom from Estonia). Stupid Young Heart is the 43 year-old director's third narrative feature after several shorts and docs. 


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Reader Comments (6)

Seems like Taiwan's been pretty open in submitting films made by female directors. This is the third time in the past four years a film directed (or co-directed) by a female was submitted, following Huang Hui-chen's Small Talk and Laha Mebow's Hang in There Kids. Prior to that they submitted to films directed by Sylvia Chang (Tonight Nobody Goes Home and 20 30 40) and one by Ann Hui (Song of the Exile.) Of course the Academy only nominates films by Ang Lee. :\

October 7, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterajnrules

I would love it if HONEYLAND got in.

October 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I think in this list, "Atlantics", "Queen of Hearts" and "Honeyland" have the best chances of getting to at least the Top 10 finalists.

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

I am LOVING the appreciation for Honeyland in these comments.

Atlantics seems like the best bet to get nominated though. Celine Sciamma should have been a lock though. :-(

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered

Atlantics seems like a strong bet. I saw Antigone at TIFF and while it is a solid film, I'd be surprised if it made it on the shortlist.

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew St.Clair

Considering in France the film is flopping at BO (and i'm not lying), it's not granted that statement.

People should reconsider their own bias and go for the basic taste of the AMPAS.

BTW, where's Evan?

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterleon

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