Director slams Academy for Oscar block

Wolf Totem, by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (left), has too many non-Chinese crew working on it to qualify as an entry for Best Foreign Language Film, according to Academy Award organisers.
Wolf Totem, by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud (left), has too many non-Chinese crew working on it to qualify as an entry for Best Foreign Language Film, according to Academy Award organisers. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • Oscar-winning French director Jean-Jacques Annaud denounced the Academy Award organisers on Monday after he said they ordered his Sino-French co-production Wolf Totem out of the running for being insufficiently Chinese.

Annaud told Agence France- Presse he was "stupefied" by the last-minute move and accused the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of a "banana republic level of arbitrariness".

Wolf Totem, shot in Mandarin and Mongolian, is based on Jiang Rong's semi- autobiographical novel recounting a "sent-down" youth's time among nomads in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution and his attempts to raise a wolf in captivity.

It was filmed in China using Chinese actors and the Chinese media reported widely that it would be the country's 2016 candidate for Best Foreign Language Film.

But Annaud cited a letter from the Academy as telling him: "When we looked at the creative make-up of Wolf Totem and realised that the director, two of the three writers, one of the producers, the DOP (director of photography), the editor and the composer were not Chinese, we determined that the film could not qualify as a Chinese entry."

Annaud - who previously won the same Oscar with Black And White In Color, a 1976 war comedy for the Ivory Coast - told Agence France-Presse by telephone: "I believe that the selection committee completely forgot the importance of actors in a film. It's the same as ignoring the content of the film."

"I am stupefied," he said. "Suddenly, the rules changed."

His film has been replaced with director Han Yan's romantic comedy about a young woman suffering from cancer called Go Away Mr Tumor, said China Film News, a paper run by the broadcasting authorities.

Mr La Peikang, chairman of the state-run China Film Group, the biggest funder of Wolf Totem, had told Annaud he was "deeply shocked" by the decision, the director said.

The disqualification, the Frenchman added, will be an "enormous problem" for future co-productions, which have infused the Chinese film industry with foreign technical know-how in recent years.

He accused Hollywood of a "nearly protectionist" double standard where "American cinema can feed off foreign talent without reservation. But foreign cinema must remain tribal".

"Perhaps there's an American worry with respect to the internationalisation of Chinese cinema," he said. "Why shouldn't China be afforded the same possibilities?"

The Academy picks nominees for the Foreign Language Oscar from submissions from individual countries, which can put forward only one movie each year.

Chinese contenders are chosen by the secretive State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which is also in charge of media censorship.

Last year, China's entry was another Sino-French co-production, The Nightingale, which also had a French director, Philippe Muyl.

The only Chinese movie to be shortlisted for an Oscar was Zhang Yimou's Hero, in 2003.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Director slams Academy for Oscar block'. Print Edition | Subscribe