2016 Foreign Oscar Guide: Female Directors Make History

Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2016 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 85 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that this year’s Foreign Language Oscar race includes 85 films, thereby setting a new record. But there’s another history-making statistic that has gone by underreported. Among those submissions are a record number of films directed by women, with 16 entries crediting women at the helm. Of course, the gender ratio is still far from ideal, but when compared with the paltry numbers represented in Hollywood (often less than 10 percent in a given year), these history-making groups of women are certainly worthy of special recognition.

Athina Rachel Tsangari
Athina Rachel Tsangari

And indeed, most exciting is the strong possibility of a female director winning it all this year. If the general consensus is to be believed, that honor will go to Maren Ade and her critically acclaimed comedy “Toni Erdmann.” The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) has already named “Toni Erdmann” the Best Film of the Year, doubling up on their Cannes prize awarded earlier. Meanwhile another comedy was a festival fave in 2015, namely Greece’s submission, “Chevalier.” Directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari, this unorthodox parody of masculinity claimed the top prize at the 2015 London Film Festival, in addition to various other laurels from the festival circuit. And although less overtly comedic, the submissions from Estonia (Kadri Kõusaare’s “Mother“), Latvia (Laila Pakalniņa’s “Dawn“) and Taiwan (Laha Mebow’s “Hang in There, Kids!) also injected humor into their narratives.

Apart from these comedies, the female directors mostly concerned themselves with serious issues affecting culture and society both past and present. From Austria, Maria Schrader’s biopic “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” laments the decline of humanity during the Nazi era and the associated war. Similarly, the effects of war are central to the story of Rusudan Glurjidze’s “House of Others.” Submitted by Georgia, it follows two families struggling to rebuild their lives after the War in Abkhazia. Meanwhile, Khadija al-Salami’s “I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced” (Yemen) highlights the topic of child marriage, as a 10-year-old seeks a divorce from her abusive husband. And from New Zealand, Pietra Brettkelly takes the documentary route with “A Flickering Truth,” which explores attempts to recover lost films in Afghanistan after the dark days of Taliban rule.

Tunku Mona Riza
Tunku Mona Riza

In addition, a pair of films depict human struggle on a more personal level. In Tunku Mona Riza’s “Beautiful Pain” (Malaysia), a couple must come to terms with the difficulties of raising an autistic son. And from Thailand we have one of the most controversial films in the race. Directed by Kanittha Kwanyu, “Karma” follows a young man who becomes a monk yet gets involved in a relationship with a young woman. The film was briefly banned due to its inclusion of scenes involving Buddhist monks engaging with sex and alcohol.

And finally, these titles join the following films that were already discussed: Julia Vargas-Weise’s “Sealed Cargo” (Bolivia), Elite Zexer’s “Sand Storm” (Israel), Mai Masri’s “3000 Nights” (Jordan), Paula van der Oest’s “Tonio” (Netherlands) and Manane Rodriguez’ “Breadcrumbs.”

Contender to watch: “Toni Erdmann”

Which of these women-directed films are you rooting for? Let us know in the comments below.