Two of the best films that we've watched so far deal with young men going on a journey to new places in hope for a better life and better opportunities.
THE CAPTAIN is the International Feature submission for ITALY. The film is about two young teenagers and cousins, Seydou and Moussa. They live in Dakar, Senegal. They’ve been secretly working odd jobs for the past six months saving money to leave their city and families behind to move to Europe. They dream of becoming hip hop stars where they can earn even more money to support their families and to give everyone a better life. Despite locals warning them not to do the impossible journey, the young men escape one morning and jump on the bus to head to Mali. Their illegal migration has begun. After securing fake passports, their first goal is to head west to Agadez, Niger. And from there to head across the Sahara Desert up north to Tripoli, Libya until they reach the small town called Zuara. The final leg of the journey is the boat ride to Italy. Their destination. Their dream. But nothing goes as planned. Checkpoint guards ask for money. Drivers leave them stranded in the desert. The Libyan mafia ambush and torture them until every single cent they own is given to them. Bitterly regretting their decision, wanting to go back home, but knowing that they can no longer turn back, Seydou and Moussa fight for survival where dead bodies lay all around them.
HALKARA is the International Feature submission for NEPAL. The film takes place in a small village in Nepal. Due to a traumatic past event, Ram is struggling with alcoholism and is unemployed owing debts to everyone in town. Luckily, one day, a government service position as a postman opens up, left vacant due to the former employee pursuing a job in the Gulf. His job is to go to the remote villages around the country delivering mail to the rightful owners. Most of the mail is coming from men who are stuck and enduring torturous circumstances in the Middle East. En route to one of the villages, Ram meets Mia, a married woman whose husband left for Qatar a week after their wedding and has now gone missing for the last two years. Today, migrants account for an average of 70% of the employed population in the Gulf, and over 95% in Qatar. Extreme heat exposure and long gruelling hours has become the leading causes of death for these men who come from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As most of the men are forced to work outside, heat rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat strokes are a daily occurrence. And due to wage theft, illegal recruitment fees and passports being taken away, these men are usually left stuck in these conditions until their contracts have been completed. And those loved ones left behind are in a constant state of worry and uneasiness not knowing if they’ll ever see them again.
(Nepal - Halkara)
These next two films are about new couples, young love, and exciting new challenges for these men and women in search for eternal happiness.
SLOW is the International Feature submission for LITHUANIA. The film revolves around Dovydas, a sign language interpreter, who comes to assist a contemporary dancer Elena. She is instructing a class of deaf students and she’s in need of help with communicating with her young dancers. After their first session working together, Dovydas and Elena have an instant connection, an instant feeling of familiarity and comfort. Everything feels right. And there’s a feeling of innocence almost like discovering love for the first time. Dovydas and Elena soon after begin to form a romantic bond with one another. There’s a gravitational pull that brings them together. They spend their days at her dance studio, as she prepares her routines with her students. They spend their time at local bars, getting to know one another better. They attend Dovydas’ brother’s wedding and they meet Elena’s mom. But as their relationship begins to get more intense, Dovydas reveals that he is asexual, and that he’s not attracted to anyone sexually. He never has been and he never will. And he can’t change it. Is love enough to sustain this relationship? Can we love someone without sex? The film is a love story about learning and growing as a person. It’s a love story about rediscovering what it means to truly know someone and to take things slow. It’s a love story that’s special and will not be forgotten.
GLORIOUS ASHES is the International Feature submission for VIETNAM. Set in a small coastal village in South Vietnam, the story revolves around two women: Hau and Nhan. After an unintentional pregnancy, Hau and Doung are forced to get married, and while Hau starts off her relationship super hopeful and optimistic, it slowly begins to fade as her husband becomes more and more absent, spending his time working in a small shack in the middle of the ocean for weeks at a time. The reason for this though, is that Doung is still enamoured with his childhood sweetheart, Nhan, who just got married to Tam, a ceramic worker. Hau and Nhan both get pregnant at the same time and they both have baby girls. Since their village is extremely small, the two married couples are constantly bumping into one another as they take care of the various chores along the river, while raising their girls. As the years go by, Tam and Nhan are seemingly happy together, while Doung shows no interest in Hau at all, remaining silent throughout most conversations, drinking and being completely absent despite being in the same room as her. Hau feels that Nhan is superior to her in every possible way, and begins to resent her. But with life, things never go as planned, and one tragic event changes the entire dynamic between these two married couples.
(Vietnam - Glorious Ashes)
These next two films deal with the impact of global warming and the effects it's having with the weather.
NO GROUND BENEATH THE FEET is the International Feature submission for BANGLADESH. Set in the busy streets of Dhaka, the film focuses on Saiful, an impoverished ambulance driver, who’s married to two women: Monowara and Mina. As Saiful works endlessly picking up patients and driving them to hospitals, both women find themselves in a terrible predicament and they both desperately need Saiful's help. Climate change has caused severe weather changes in Bangladesh. The country is known as being the land of many rivers, and as a result it’s very prone to flooding. 80% of Bangladesh is situated adjacent to a river, and combining that with the frequent bursting of river banks, millions of people are severely at risk, and thousands of villages are constantly in danger. As the water levels continue to rise, food and drinking water disappear, along with medical care. And the outcome is looting, violence, crime, and the increase of more deaths. With no ground beneath their feet, the living survivors struggle to bury the dead, being forced to say goodbye to loved ones unceremoniously floating them away in the swirling floodwaters.
2018 is the International Feature submission for INDIA. The film is about the devastating floods that happened in August 2018 throughout Kerala. It follows the journey through a few resilient individuals who had to endure one of the most horrifying weather disasters in recent years. The film begins in a village in Aruvikkulam, Anoop, and his friends and family are all living their lives working in their stores, or as teachers, as fisherman, or as journalists. As the rainy season approaches, the local fishermen, and others, begin to close up their homes and head out to care centres due to the rising waters. This year is slightly different though. The dam in the nearby area is opened up for the first time in decades. This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of neighborhoods were suffering from lack of water or from clean water. The result is disastrous. As the rain begins to fall heavier than usual, combined with the opening of the dam, the result ends up causing water levels to increase significantly, in record time. Completely unprepared for what is about to come, Anoop and his fellow neighbours must act quickly in order to save themselves from drowning.
(Bangladesh - No Ground Beneath the Feet)
These next four films deal with fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters.
I HAVE ELECTRIC DREAMS is the International Feature submission for COSTA RICA. The film follows Eva, a 16 year old girl, who’s desperate to leave her mother’s house, which she shares with her sister Sol. Her mother, Anca, is now dating again and renovating her house, after a large inheritance, and in the process she’s throwing away anything that reminds her of her ex-husband, Martin. Eva’s parents had an extremely violent, abusive and toxic relationship which ended in a divorce. Unfortunately, Eva is slowly beginning to repeat the same patterns as her dad, as she’s violent with her sister and she appears to be possessed by the same demons as her father. Martin has been crashing at his best friend’s house since the divorce. Unable to afford a new place, he spends his time creating poems, sculptures and paintings, like a troubled creative artist. Eva has been sending her dad new apartment listings and often accompanies him as they look for a new home together. The only requirement for her is that it has to have two bedrooms, so that she can stay with him permanently one day. And while all of this is happening, Eva begins to experiment with smoking, drinking and sex. The atmosphere between these two individuals begins to become so inflammable that anything could ignite at any second.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY is the International Feature submission for INDONESIA. Rakib, the youngest son of Amir, works as a housekeeper in a mansion owned by Purna, a retired general. Rakib’s family has been working for Purna’s family now for four generations. With his father in prison and his older brother working in Singapore, Rakib has now been tasked of taking care of Purna. He’s a chauffeur, a waiter, a cleaner, a guard, an entertainer for his boss. He’s an obedient, dog-like companion. And they have almost a father-son like relationship. Purna is now running for Mayor of the region. Their days are spent putting up posters, giving speeches, and talking to the locals. When they’re not working, they play chess together, watch sports on TV, have shooting lessons and go bird hunting. They even visit Amir in prison. One day though, while driving back home, Purna notices that someone has vandalized one of his posters. He’s visibly upset and wants to find out who did it. As Rakib begins to investigate the crime, he slowly starts to realize that the locals are afraid of his boss.
FAMILY ALBUM is the International Feature submission for URUGUAY. The film is centred around Manuel, a teenager just out of high school, and his younger brother Agustin, who are both moving away from their mom’s house to go live with their dad. The two of them are musically gifted and since their dad, Cesar, was a fantastic bass player in the 1990s, they feel that they’ll be able to work on their talents with the guidance of their father. Cesar just bought a work office as an investment property and for the mean time the three of them create this living area as their home. But more importantly this sanctuary has become their space to practice their music, write lyrics to songs, and play as a band. Despite the pressures from his mother to complete his engineering studies, Manuel decides to form his own band. Along with Agustin, he’s also asked Eli, a talented singer, his best friend Rafa, and even his dad to be a part of his group. Together they’ve named themselves High Fidelity, and soon enough they’ve found their first gig. But as Manuel discovers that this is what he wants to do for a living, tensions begin to arise between his mother, who thinks he should become an engineer, and with his father, who tries to take control of the band.
BAD LIVING is the International Feature submission for PORTUGAL. The film takes place in a once formidable traditional family hotel. It’s seen better days, and with a lack of guests and lots of repair work needed, the hotel is at risk of closure. Salome has recently arrived back to the estate to be reunited with her mentally unstable mother, Piedade. Salome’s father recently passed away, and so her grandmother, Sara, thought it would be best for Salome to return back to the hotel, to be with her mother and to help run it. This bleak drama lays out the foundation that some people are incapable to love, and that some parents just don’t love their children. Piedade doesn’t do it on purpose, to be loveless. She’s just not able to think about anyone else but herself. She has created a world inside of her, almost like her own reality, her own schedule. If anything happens to be a bit different from what she thought, it makes her panic. Piedade panics about panicking. But nobody can program life. Not down to the millimetre. And having Salome back in her life, after living with her father since the age of twelve, has created an unbearable anxiety for her. Piedade lives under a net, full of mud, all tangled up and unable to get free. And the worst part, is that she refuses to get help.
(Costa Rica - I Have Electric Dreams)
A brand new world has been created for the citizens living in these next two films.
CONCRETE UTOPIA is the International Feature submission for SOUTH KOREA. The film is a post-apocalyptic parable centred on a massive earthquake that destroys Seoul, leaving the entire city in complete disarray. Every single building is gone, except for one high-rise apartment complex: the Hwang Gung Apartments. There are 219 people that survived the tremor that currently live in this building including Min-Seong and his wife Myeong-Hwa, a happily married couple who met in university during a blind date. In an effort to establish order, the residents of the apartment building elect Yeong-Tak as their leader, the president, and the one who makes the final say with the rules and regulations in the complex. Yeong-Tak elects Min-Seong as the leader of the anti-crime task force. As resources, including food and water, begin to dwindle, the residents collectively decide that it is in their best interest to only allow residents to remain in their apartments which effectively evicts everyone else. After a massive brawl between residents and non-residents occur, the evicted are forced to leave. This verdict is the beginning of violent consequences as Yeong-Tak and Min-Seong attempt to protect its haven.
PHOTOPHOBIA is the International Feature submission for SLOVAKIA. The film takes place in Kharkiv, in February, as the Russian forces begin their attack in Ukraine. Twelve year old Nikita, along with his parents and sister, take shelter in the metro station to protect themselves from the raging war outside. The booming explosions are constant. The airstrikes are beginning to happen and the shelling is non-stop. Along with this family of four, there are more than 1,500 other people underground with them. Women, men, the elderly, the young, even cats and dogs, have all made this place their home. This fiction-documentary looks at the war in Ukraine through the eyes of two children, and their families, who are searching for a little bit of sunshine. Life isn’t easy for these innocent people who’ve taken refuge in this subway station. Their choice though is either living in discomfort, or dying from a missile. Photophobia commits to showing the realities faced by far too many people who are simply trying to survive in an impossible situation. The film captures people who were forced to leave everything behind, from one day to the next. Their fight to live another day is a blessing that most of us take for granted.
(South Korea - Concrete Utopia)
Is what you're seeing real, or is it a fantasy? Or is it both? These next two films challenge one's concept of the real world.
NELSITO'S WORLD is the International Feature submission for CUBA. The film is centred on an autistic 16 year old boy, Nelsito. He spends his time mostly at home with his mother, Ana, a divorced artist who’s struggling to sell her paintings. Ana’s friends keep telling her that she should send Nelsito away to an institution, where he can be watched and monitored 24/7. He can potentially receive the care that he needs but Ana refuses to admit her son to a hospital. She knows that his place is at home with her. One day, as Ana rushes out to do some errands, she accidentally leaves the door open. Nelsito takes advantage of the situation in order to have just one moment of freedom. A moment of liberation. But the outside world isn’t an easy place for him to be solo, and soon after he’s struck by a car as he wanders into the street. Needing emergency care, he’s rushed to the hospital. As the doctors try to figure out what to do next with him, in regards to treatments and medication, Nelsito begins to imagine a brand new world.
IN FLAMES is the International Feature submission for PAKISTAN. The film is about twenty-five year old medical student Mariam. She lives with her widowed mother Fariha and her younger brother Bilal, in a small gloomy apartment in Karachi. Left devastated by the sudden death of her grandfather, they’re now left without any adult male figure in their lives and a string of debts that they have no way of paying. One day, Marian meets a fellow student Asad. He’s recently moved back to Pakistan from studying in Canada. He’s instantly drawn to Marian and he begins to call her non-stop wanting to spend more time with her. His persistence works and soon they’re hanging out in the school library, in the park, and taking long walks together. They even sneak away to the beach which turns out to be a perfect day. Well, that is until the unimaginable happens. Asad crashes his motorbike and instantly dies, while Marian is slightly injured. What happens next begins to become a blur for her as she starts to confuse reality with fantasy.
(Pakistan - In Flames)
These next three films deal with rags to riches, riches to rags, or simply trying to preserve the only life they've ever known.
ALHAMOUR H.A is the International Feature submission for SAUDI ARABIA. Set in the early 2000s, when the economy was at its prime, the film focuses on Hamed, a man who moved from Makkah to Jeddah, along with his wife Fatima, to re-start their lives in hopes of becoming a success story, like so many other people around him. Struggling to keep a float and living a humble life, Hamed is able to secure a job as a security guard in a luxury oceanfront hotel. One night, by chance, he meets a hotel guest who would give him advice that would forever change his life. He learns that the secret to success is to exhaust oneself during rest time, so that one can rest during exhausting times. Shortly after he quits his job. With a pregnant wife, Hamed lands himself a job in a call centre. Learning how to sell anything to anyone, he starts a side business selling phones. This slowly begins to grow into a mobile card scheme. He then quickly moves into selling charge cards. And before he knows it, he’s operating in a Ponzi scheme, along with his friends, making money faster than he ever expected. Hamed’s life turns to parties, drugs, drinking and womanizing. His relationship with his wife begins to get rocky, and the greed to want more and more begins to overtake his entire life.
CUARENCENA is the International Feature submission for DOMINICAN REPUBLIC. The film takes place right in the middle of the Covid pandemic. The country is in a state of emergency. Restrictions are at an all-time high with a mandatory curfew for all citizens starting in the early evening until the following morning. It’s illegal to wander the streets during this time and a two to six month jail time is the minimum sentence for those arrested. Gatherings outside of the family is strictly prohibited. After seven months of complete isolation, Mateo, a Michelin star chef, and his wife, Claudia, decide to, despite the risks, host a dinner party for their closest friends. As each guest shows their negative test results as they enter the glorious upscale home, the night starts out amazingly well for the hosts and their five invited friends. The married couple had to unfortunately close their restaurant because of the pandemic, so Mateo has been eager to prepare a five dinner meal to showcase his newest creations. But, the tension is slowly rising amongst the seven restless individuals, and what is supposed to be a deliciously elegant fine-dining experience slowly starts to fall apart for all the people sitting around the table.
MAMI WATA is the International Feature submission for NIGERIA. Mami Wata is an unseen water goddess that is worshipped and revered across West, Central and Southern Africa. The film is a modern day myth based on the beliefs of this goddess that takes place in a coastal West African village called Iyi whose citizens stand against modernity. Mama Efe is the Intermediary of her people, which is in effect the high priestess and queen of the village. Along with her two daughters Prisca, who is adopted, and Zinwe, the three of them are the leaders of the tribe. The people in this town give Mama Efe a portion of their earnings in return for her powers and blessings when in need. But they’re beginning to grumble. Mama Efe is losing her touch, and her healing rituals seem increasingly less effective. The locals who pay her a tax are complaining that they’re getting very little for their trouble. In addition, the nearby villages now have electricity, running water, a school and a hospital. Mama Efe is opposed to any progess to the village, wanting to maintain the rituals and the same way of life, as she thinks they already have everything that they need. When the villagers of Iyi find a man, Jasper, washed up on the shore, the small village is about to get an upheaval to the only life they’ve ever known.
(Saudi Arabia - Alhamour H.A)
Following one's passion, living in the present, and being happy in the moment are the basis of these next two films.
PERFECT DAYS is the International Feature submission for JAPAN. The film follows Hirayama, a toilet cleaner on the outskirts of Tokyo, as he lives his quiet life one moment at a time and one day at a time. Everyday he wakes up before the sun rises to the sounds of a woman sweeping the leaves. He washes up, lovingly takes care of his plants and then jumps into his van to start his day at work cleaning toilets. He ends his day at the same restaurant every evening before reading a book just before his bedtime. He loves his routine and at this moment in his life he wouldn’t want it any other way. Hirayama’s daily routine becomes the structural backbone of the entire film. Perfect Days is a film about the power of being present. It’s a beautiful and moving depiction of how we can find clarity, acceptance, and joy by embracing the current moment and allowing our lives to unfold one day at a time. There are no flashbacks, no exposition dumps, no cutaways to another time or place. We never leave Hirayama’s side, and Hirayama himself never strays from being truly present in every single moment. The film offers a much more layered and realistic depiction of how presence can be the basis of a life with purpose, one where you have complete agency over who you are and how you move forward in life.
MUSIC IS MY LIFE is the International Feature submission for SOUTH AFRICA. The film tells the remarkable true story of Dr. Joseph Shabalala, the leader of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo group. This documentary explores how this group became to be a worldwide sensation, performing in front of the Queen and Pope amongst others, and becoming Nelson Mandela’s favourite band. The film showcases Shabalala’s musical and spiritual journey to worldwide fame. They became the first black South African musicians to record an album. And while recording with Paul Simon, they became international stars. They collaborated with Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Sarah McLaughlin and so many other musicians. With Grammy Awards, worldwide tours, and more than 50 songs recorded, they were the biggest group in the world. As a self taught musician, Shabalala was awarded an honorary doctorate and professorship in music. But despite all the fame, he remained humble, always carrying a notebook with him ready to write another song. All of the anecdotes and clips from the past are woven together to create this documentary, along with the gorgeous landscapes of rural Ladysmith, where it all began. The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree. For Dr. Joseph Shabalala, his resilience and strength forged him a path that allowed him to create a life involving his one and only passion, music.
(Indonesia - Autobiography)
THE LAST RUNWAY 2 is the International Feature submission for PARAGUAY. In South America, there’s an area called the Triple Frontier where Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay all share a border. This area has been known to be a transportation hub for drugs entering and leaving South America. The film takes place in Ciudad del Este, the town in Paraguay closest to this region. An undercover agent, Chamorro, has been investigating a major drug operation involving cocaine. While filming and documenting how the drug dealers run their operation, he is kidnapped by the criminal group. Chamorro, and the other members of the SENAD are part of a small group of agents trying to control the vastly growing drug industry in South America. Their goal is to stop as many organized cartels as possible. Every time a drug raid is successful, there should be a cause for celebration. It means one less operation is running in the streets of Ciudad del Este. But capturing one operation only causes a new one to open up. Jailing one leader only causes another new leader to take over. Winning one or two battles is a victory in itself but sometimes to achieve something, these agents feel like they need to do more. This type of war can only be fought from within and agents risk their lives trying to uncover the darkest, most dangerous drug rings.
Now of these 20 films, there’s a chance that perhaps three of them will make the shortlist. In this first stage of voting, the films with the most buzz, and the films that debut in high prestigious festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Venice usually end up getting shortlisted. If we had to pick three, and this is solely based on who we think will be nominated, we would single out the following:
Perfect Days - After its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, this film became an instant contender. It has some of the best reviews of the year, the film is being backed by Neon, the lead actor Koji Yakusho is bound to get some nominations for his brilliant performance, and it feels like it has a lot of momentum to not only being shortlisted but to be nominated as well. The film is one of the current frontrunners.
The Captain - Another huge contender is Matteo Garrone's latest film. It made its debut at the Venice Film Festival to rave reviews. The film is a very relevant topic happening today. It's got some of the best performances of the year. It's got some of the best visuals of the year. It's such a captivating, incredible story and it should be shortlisted.
Slow - This film is a rare gem. It's an incredible depiction of a different love story. And it's one of the best films of the year. After its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, this film became a contender. It's now been picked up by KimStim and we hope that the Academy voters will pay attention to this special film.
In a perfect world, Halkara (Nepal), I Have Electric Dreams (Costa Rica), and Concrete Utopia (South Korea) would also be serious contenders to be shortlisted.
Let’s see what the final twelve films have to bring.