2015 Foreign Oscar Guide: Debut Filmmakers eye a golden start

First Timers
Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2015 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 81 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives. Be sure to check in with the 2015 Foreign Oscar Guide tag if you miss an article.

As is the case with other Oscar categories, Best Foreign Language Film is usually the domain of more established filmmakers. This year however, many of the most high profile submissions come from first timers. Indeed, from Cannes sensation Son of Saul to Venice winner Theeb, one could easily see all five nominations going to debut features. Here’s a look at these promising films…

László Nemes
László Nemes

Coming into the race with the most heat is Hungary’s Son of Saul, the powerful Holocaust drama from László Nemes. Set in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the film took the Cannes Film Festival by storm with its fresh perspective on the tragedy. Though Dheepan ultimately claimed the Palme d’Or, Son of Saul was the overwhelming favorite and it has only grown in esteem through its subsequent stops on the festival circuit.

Son of Saul is joined by another Holocaust-related drama in the form of Italy’s Labyrinth of Lies. Directed by Italian Giulio Ricciarelli, the film depicts a young prosecutor’s tireless search to expose high level conspiracies designed to protect former Nazis. With backing from Sony Pictures Classics, this glossy period piece will surely be a top contender. Other European countries submitting first features include: Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci’s Bota (Albania), Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy (Austria), Ines Tanović’s Our Everyday Life (Bosnia), Slávek Horák’s Home Care (Czech Republic), Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, Visar Morina’s Babai (Kosovo), Juris Kursietis’s Modris (Latvia), Ivan Ostrochovský’s Goat (Slovakia), Sonja Prosenc’s The Tree (Slovenia) and Kaan Müjdeci’s Sivas (Turkey).

A trio of African countries will also be represented by debut directors. Ethiopia has selected Yared Zeleke’s Lamb, about a young boy who embarks on a journey to protect his beloved lamb, his only friend in the world. The film is seeking Ethiopia’s first nomination, after already making history at Cannes, where it became the first Ethiopian film to be included in the official selection. On the other hand, South Africa is no stranger to these competitions, and will be represented this year by Ernest Nkosi’s The Two of Us. Ivory Coast will also make their return with Philippe Lacôte’s Run.

The Middle East will also rely heavily on newcomers this year. As usual, Israel has chosen their Ophir Awards winner, Yuval Delshad’s Baba Joon, which tells of a family of Iranian immigrants struggling to reconcile their inter-generational differences. Meanwhile, neighboring Palestine has chosen perhaps the most unique of all this year’s submissions. Their film is Paul Cowan and Amer Shomali’s The Wanted 18, an animated documentary about a herd of 18 dairy cows who were deemed a threat to national security in Israel. And from Jordan comes a desert adventure named Theeb (directed by Naji Abu Nowar), which follows a young Bedouin boy as he guides a British officer on a dangerous trek during World War I. Winner of a Best Director prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, Theeb will soon be released in select theaters and is considered a strong dark horse contender.

From Asia, there will be four countries sending first-time filmmakers. These include Abu Shahed Emon’s Jalal’s Story (Bangladesh), Kulikar Sotho’s The Last Reel (Cambodia), Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court (India) and Mirlan Abdykalykov’s Heavenly Nomadic (Kyrgyzstan). And they will be joined Australia’s submission – Greg Sneddon’s Arrows of the Thunder Dragon – which is set in the Asian country of Bhutan.

As previously discussed, Latin America rounds out this group with Jayro Bustamante’s Ixcanul, Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles, Arami Ullón’s Cloudy Times and Germán Tejeira’s A Moonless Night.

Which debut films are you rooting for?

Contenders to watch: Son of Saul, Theeb, Labyrinth of Lies, Ixcanul