Film director Annaud slams Oscar organisers for China film block

French director Jean-Jacques Annaud attending a press conference in Beijing for his movie Wolf Totem in Beijing on April 21, 2014.
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud attending a press conference in Beijing for his movie Wolf Totem in Beijing on April 21, 2014.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Acclaimed film director and Oscar winner Jean-Jacques Annaud furiously 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.

He told AFP he was "stupefied" by the last-minute move and accused the Hollywood-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of a "banana republic level of arbitrariness".

Wolf Totem, shot in Mandarin and Mongolian, is based on a 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 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 a 1976 film Black And White In Colour for the Ivory Coast, told AFP 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. It was almost a banana republic-level of arbitrariness."

The Academy picks nominees for the foreign-language Oscar from submissions from individual countries, which can only put forward 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 in the Communist-ruled country.

Annaud's film has been replaced with a romantic comedy about cancer called Go Away Mr Tumor, according to China Film News, a state-run paper managed by broadcasting authorities. That more popcorn-friendly movie, based on a true story, depicts a young woman suffering from cancer who seeks to live life to the full.

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 Frenchman said. The disqualification, Annaud 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 did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment by AFP. Last year, China's entry was another Sino-French co-production, The Nightingale, which also had a French director. The only Chinese movie to be shortlisted for an Oscar was Zhang Yimou's Hero, which was among the nominees in 2003.