United Kingdom’s ‘I Am Not a Witch’ Headlines First Wave of Foreign Oscar submissions

As we await the inevitable Oscar buzz out of the fall festival circuit, one category is already starting to take shape. The first wave of submissions for Best Foreign Language Film has been announced with some strong contenders among them. Leading the pack is the United Kingdom’s submission of Rungano Nyoni’s geniusly absurdist “I Am Not a Witch“, about an 8-year old Zambian girl who is declared a witch after an incident in her village. The film is already a proven industry favorite having racked up several major notices. These include a BAFTA win for Outstanding Debut and a nomination for Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards alongside Oscar nominees “A Fantastic Woman” and “Loveless”. And soon, American critics and audiences will also get to sound off on the film when Film Movement releases it on September 7.

Image from “The Wild Pear Tree”

While first-timer Nyoni is new to the Oscar game, she will be joined by some familiar names to Academy voters. For Turkey, it’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who was shortlisted 10 years ago for “Three Monkeys” and hopes to go one better with “The Wild Pear Tree“. Meanwhile, 3 other European countries are also submitting filmmakers who’ve been selected multiple times before. Romania will be represented by Radu Jude’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians“, which won the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Slovakia is going with Martin Šulík’s “The Interpreter“, which premiered at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. And Switzerland has chosen “Eldorado“, the latest documentary by Markus Imhoof.

Completing this batch of submissions are a pair of films from female directors. Belarus has selected Darya Zhuk’s “Crystal Swan, while Estonia’s pick is Take It or Leave It” from director Liina Trishkina. As we anticipate more submissions directed by women such as Nadine Labaki’s Cannes heartbreaker “Capernaum“, last year’s record could be broken once again.

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“Birds of Passage”

Several of the category’s regulars will announce their submissions within the next few weeks. On August 29, Colombia, Germany, and Ukraine will pick from their shortlists. The expected frontrunners are Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s “Birds of Passage“, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “Never Look Away” and Sergei Loznitsa’s “Donbass“.

A week later on September 6, Israel and Spain will enter the fray. As is customary, Israel will choose that night’s Best Film winner at the Ophir Awards. The nominees are “The Cakemaker“, “Fig Tree“, “Laces“, “Noble Savage” and “Flawless“. Meanwhile, Spain’s shortlist includes “Campeones“, “Handia” and the star-studded “Everybody Knows” by 2-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi.