I Want My Foreign Films

A moviegoer reveals Oscar’s annual problem


The only three Oscar-nominated films I couldn’t see this year

Back in the ‘80s, a commonly-heard rant was “I want my MTV.” It was, of course, a marketing ploy by MTV to get their channel added to cable systems. We were supposed to rise up as consumers and demand this channel like it was a birthright. But we really did want our MTV, so we asked for it, and before long we had it.

Here’s what I want today: I want my foreign films.

Some notable ones are missing. Every year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences nominates 5 foreign language films for its coveted statuette. And as every filmmaker knows, there is no better publicity for their film than an Oscar nomination.

However, all the publicity doesn’t do diddly-squat if filmgoers can’t find the film. And that is what happens to most Oscar-nominated foreign language films, every year.

Don’t believe me? Check this out. I make a point to see every Oscar-nominated film each year before the Oscars. That usually means I have to see 30-45 films in just over a month. I’m willing to go anywhere, do anything, and pay anything. Plunk down $20 for a one-night-only showing of a nominated film? I’ve done it.

And consistently, I’ve seen every single one of the domestic nominees. This year that meant seeing 44 films in 34 days. They’re in theaters, or they’re on disc, or Netflix is streaming them. But in 2008, I only saw 1 of the 5 foreign nominees. In 2009, I saw 3. In 2010, I saw 2. Why? Because these films are simply nowhere to be found.

These are films that have been nominated as the best of the best, the finest in the world, and are up for the highest possible American film award. They get a nice promotional bump as nominees from late January to late February. And yet many won’t see the inside of an American theater until a month after that, and often not at all.

How can that be?

I’ll tell you what’s NOT the problem:

  • The MPAA rating system. Though most films are rated G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 by the time we see them, ratings are not mandatory for films produced outside the major U.S. studios. This year, I saw Chico & Rita in a theater, and it was unrated.
  • Consumer demand. If you go to Google and start typing the name of a recently-nominated but strangely absent film, Monsieur Lazhar, it comes up before you’ve finished typing “monsie.” People are looking for this film.
  • Exclusive theater contracts. These films aren’t in theaters. So why would they not be somewhere else that the American consumer can get to? Put it on a website or streaming service. We’ll happily pay to download it.
  • Video technology. Here’s where I toot the DivX horn. You can usually download a movie in DivX format in about 10 minutes. That’s a two-hour movie, in HD, with subtitles, viewable on the giant HDTV in your living room or any of 569 million other DivX Certified consumer electronic devices. So why does it take two months to reach theaters? Are they sending it by Pony Express, or slow boat around Cape Horn? Why would anything take a month in 2012?

This makes no business sense at all. Companies with an in-demand product are not selling it to one of the world’s largest markets at the time when all eyes are on it.

Whatever the obstacle, I’m putting American movie distributors on notice, right now. I represent an eager, paying, untapped market. I want my foreign films. Figure it out.

Have you been frustrated in your search for foreign films? Tell us about it via Facebook (DivXLLC) or Twitter (@DivX).

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