Before we begin focusing all our attention on the 15 films that were shortlisted, let's take a look at the 15 best films that didn't advance to the next round. With the International Feature submissions constantly getting stronger and stronger, and the quality of the submissions getting better and better, the amount of remarkable films not getting shortlisted is getting harder to accept. We want to take the opportunity to highlight these films as each and every one of them were probably incredibly close to making it to the final 15.
The five biggest omissions were probably the following films:
The Settlers (Chile)
Mami Wata (Nigeria)
The Peasants (Poland)
About Dry Grasses (Turkey)
But the following 15 films are our favourite films not shortlisted this year:
15. THE SETTLERS (CHILE)
The film takes place in Tierra del Fuego, in the southernmost point of Chile and Argentina in 1901. The entire land is owned by Jose Menendez. With the help of dozens of men, he’s been building fences across his entire property in order to protect his sheep from any intruders. Despite his efforts, his sheep keep getting attacked by the Indigenous people who have lived on this land their entire life. In retaliation, Menendez hires Alexander MacLennan, a Scottish war veteran, Bill, a ruthless “Indigenous tracker,” and Segundo, a local from the area, to secure a safe route from his land to the Atlantic Ocean for his sheep. The three men begin their journey to the vast and expansive unknown. Their search to cleanse the island has begun. The film showcases some of the darkest parts of Chile and Argentina’s past. The unimaginable bloodshed that was done to these people lasted for decades as the population dwindled from thousands in the late 1800s to less than 500 in the early 1900s. The Indigenous men and women were tortured, raped and exterminated. The Settlers tells one story, one colonization, one part of a bloody history. The epilogue is such a tragic, gut-punching ending and such a perfect way to solidify the message of the film and the impact that it's caused for thousands of people.
14. I HAVE ELECTRIC DREAMS (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.
13. BANEL AND ADAMA (SENEGAL)
The film is about two young lovers, namely Banel and Adama, who live in a tiny village in Northern Senegal. They spend their days together telling stories to one another, laying in the grass while taking care of their village’s cattle, spending their evenings together planning for their future. They dream of living together in an abandoned house which is buried by a recent sandstorm. They’re in a dream like mentality, utterly infatuated with one another. Inseparable. They’ve been in love with one another since their early teens, but Banel was forced to marry Adama’s older brother Yero, who was the tribal chief. When Yero died after a horrific accident, Adama was welcomed by the tribal elders to now marry Banel. They’ve now been married for a year. But the community is furious at them for two reasons: Adama refuses to accept the position of tribal chief and Banel doesn’t want to get pregnant, to raise a male heir. While this is all happening, a drought strikes the village, and weeks and months go by without any rain. Are the newlyweds to blame for the calamity that has struck the village?
12. INSHALLAH A BOY (JORDAN)
The film takes place in 2019 in Amman, when Nawal one day discovers that her husband Adnan has died during his sleep without any warning. His death leaves Nawal and their daughter, Nora, alone and forced to fend for themselves in a society that revolves around men. As a widow with no sons, the grieving widow has very little say when it comes to her future. The domestic legal reality for Nawal is that the property ownership now rests in the hands of her brother-in-law, Rifqi. He gets to decide how the property will be divided, which includes the house and their car. Despite paying for most of the downpayment and half the mortgage payments, Nawal discovers that Rifqi now owns half the apartment. And since he desperately needs cash, he wants to sell it, which essentially will leave Nawal and Nora homeless. It’s a crazy system where the family of the deceased has a right to a share of the inheritance just because Nawal doesn’t have a son. Desperate and alone, Nawal claims to the judge that she’s pregnant with a boy hoping that it’ll keep a roof over her head for a little while longer.
11. HALKARA (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.
10. SMOKE SAUNA SISTERHOOD (ESTONIA)
The latest documentary from Anna Hints is a film focused on a small group of women who disclose their secrets and fears to one another inside a smoke sauna. This safe space is sacred and it’s a place where these women are open to all conversations and feelings. These nameless subjects bond over topics such as family expectations, sexuality, maternal labour, dating, trauma and sexual abuse. The sauna is a space of community for these women. And in this safe place, they share their pain, hopes and regrets, and their ability for healing. Through water and smoke, the sauna activates tenderness and catharsis between these women, creating a sense of care from one woman to another. The sauna cleanses them. It exalts them both inside and out. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood is an ode to the female body and a celebration of stories between women. The film is framed in a way that every body part is shown: arms, legs, stomach folds, breasts, and body shapes from every size, and they’re photographed with affection. The film feels so liberating and safe. It doesn’t objectify. The camera allows privacy when it’s warranted. And it’s incredible how joyous this film can feel despite feeling so mournful at the same time.
9. OPPONENT (SWEDEN)
After a fellow wrestling teammate starts a damaging rumour about Iman, he is forced to flee Iran immediately along with his wife, Maryam, and his two daughters. They end up in a small, cold Swedish town near the Finnish border. After two agonizing years of waiting on their asylum application, the family of four are constantly being shuffled from one refugee housing apartment to the next, while Iman works as a pizza delivery man to make ends meet. When Maryam finds out that she’s pregnant with their third child, they hope that this will help them get residency in this new country. And to further help their application, a translator friend suggests that Iman should start competing again in wrestling for Sweden, after being part of the Iranian national team at the Rio Olympics. Maryam strongly opposes this decision, as wrestling is the reason why they had to flee Tehran, but nothing will stop him from re-joining the sport. Much of Opponent plays out like a wrestling match, with the married couple grappling for an advantage, with often blocking and locking each other’s movements. Likewise, the push and pull within Iman and his family are shown as they slowly become accustomed to unfamiliar freedoms, like drinking at parties, smoking a joint, and getting lost on the dance floor. Life is different in Sweden and the jostling for acceptance of this new life, this new country, this new reality is always on the forefront of their minds.
8. IN THE SHADOW OF BEIRUT (IRELAND)
Lebanon is currently in its worst economic crisis ever due to corruption and a broken political system. The poverty in the country has increased from 42% to 82% in only two years. Hundreds of thousands of people have been living in impoverished neighbourhoods, mainly in Sabra and Shatila, including more than 30,000 people crammed in less than one square kilometre. Beirut’s poorest people live in these areas, alongside the displaced Palestinian people, the nomadic community, and families who escaped the war in Syria. This documentary follows four families from 2018 to 2022. There are countless individuals who become trapped in the cycle of homelessness, like the individuals depicted in the film. And breaking the cycle becomes impossible when young people are unable to gain an education, thus making it that much more difficult to get a job that pays a liveable wage in the future. To add to that, non Lebanese citizens are faced with numerous restrictions, such as being unable to work in certain professions and being unable to own property. The documentary witnesses it all, and provides an insight on why it’s such a challenge to break the vicious cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.
7. VERA (AUSTRIA)
Playing herself as the lead role, Vera Gemma is struggling to find her own identity as the daughter of a famous actor. She grew up in a household where the idea of being beautiful is the most important thing in life. The film follows her life, going to high end parties, red carpet events, movie auditions, dressed perfectly and being driven around by a driver. Being the offspring of a famous actor has made her life seemingly comfortable and has opened the door for many opportunities, but at the same time it’s closed just as many. She thinks her dad destroyed her relationship with men, as her latest director boyfriend, just like all her previous relationships, is just using her for connections and money. This all changes though, when one day her driver accidentally hits an eight year old boy Manuel, which causes him to break his arm. She feels a sense of responsibility for the injury and she begins to form a bond with the son’s father and his grandmother. Vera is a story about a beautiful woman who so desperately wants to find a decent relationship with a man, any man. It’s about the exploration of being a child of nepotism and trying to find one’s own identity. It’s about the cruel beauty standards that our society inflicts upon ourselves and the pressure to keep up with one’s appearances. Vera knows that the most important thing is to be happy within oneself, no matter where you are in life, and not with material possessions. But it's a daily struggle to be happy.
6. SHAYDA (AUSTRALIA)
The film is about Shayda, a wife and mother who has to come to Australia from Iran with her husband, Hossein, and daughter, Mona. Hossein is studying at the university on a scholarship to become a doctor. When Hossein’s possessiveness spills over into physical violence, Shayda and Mona flee their home and take refuge at a women’s shelter. Shayda though is in a tricky situation as she begins the legal custody battle against her husband. She knows her husband will never grant her a divorce. She also knows that he can abduct Mona at anytime and flee back to Iran and she can’t do anything about it. As the Australian courts grant her abusive husband visitation rights once a week on Saturdays, her entire world comes crashing down as she's forced to face Hossein face to face. Shayda lays bare the stress, frustration, and pain of being a woman trying to navigate multiple systems that seem to favour men over women. The film doesn’t focus on the gruesome events that led to Shayda and Mona fleeing to the shelter, but it focuses on the aftermath. And sadly, we see the ways in which law enforcement and the legal system are unequipped to support women in dangerous situations.
5. SEVEN BLESSINGS (ISRAEL)
The film is about Marie, who has been living in France for years and has created a successful life there, including finding love. She has come home to Israel to marry her French-Jewish fiancé, Dan. She hasn’t seen her Moroccan-Israeli family for over 10 years. The wedding is beautiful, extravagant, and everyone appears to be happy, but something just isn’t right. The wedding is followed by Seven Blessings. These blessings are celebratory meals, honouring the bride for every night of the week. Different family members host the happily married couple preparing lavish dinners. Marie’s brother hosts the first night. The next day Marie’s mother, then her sister, then her other sister, and so on, until seven dinners have been blessed. As the days go by, there are moments of joy, but they are also overshadowed by a tense, usually angry conversations about the past. The reason being, is that Marie was given away as a two-year old to her aunt, ripping her apart from the home she knew and away from her siblings. This formidable ensemble of actors in the film showcase the psychological trauma that was caused due to this decision. It’s heartbreaking to see Marie listen to stories of her sibling’s childhood. The missed memories she lost. The feeling of loneliness and not fitting in with the family. The decision to leave everyone and everything behind to start a new life in a foreign country.
4. THE MISSING (PHILIPPINES)
The film is about Eric, a quiet young man who works as a computer animator and who has a crush on a co-worker Carlo. One day he receives a phone call from his mother Rosalinda. Eric has not said a word since he was a child. He now communicates by writing on a whiteboard that’s always hanging around his neck. He also has been suffering from nightmares as a child. A giant green alien keeps re-appearing in his dreams, but also while he’s at work or hanging out with Carlo and Rosalinda. His safety is hiding under his bed for hours, and sometimes even for some days. He hasn’t spoken to anyone about what’s been happening with him, and he feels alone despite Carlo and his mother’s best attempts to find out what’s wrong. This film approaches those suffering from debilitating trauma with such care and compassion. There are certain moments in the film that are incredibly difficult to sit through, and even more so watching it a second time, but the film’s belief in gentleness and openness to those living through unfathomable mental and emotional distress is what makes The Missing so special. There are depictions of Eric’s entire world collapsing, but the reconstruction of his life is just so brilliant and gut-wrenching all at the same time.
3. EXCURSION (BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA)
Director Una Gunjak latest film is about a young girl named Iman, who’s in the eighth grade. Seeking acceptance from her classmates, during a game of “truth or dare,” Iman lies to her peers that she’s had sex with an older boy named Damir. Iman is a young woman trying desperately to find her identity. In her world, and in the world of teenagers, the way they see themselves is going to be shaped in part by how others see them. While her other classmates seem to have a more solid understanding of who they are as people, Iman is at a loss. She fabricates a story in the hopes of winning their respect. She thinks that announcing to everyone that she’s had sex will make her cool, that it’ll make her seem more important. But one of the more concerning experiences during adolescence is the tendency for rumours to spread, quickly. A lie, which may feel small at first, can spread rapidly amongst ones peers. And once a rumour starts spreading, the widespread effect that it can cause is insurmountable. These effects can fester and derail a young person’s entire life to the point where they lose whatever self worth and whatever self confidence they had to begin with.
2. SLOW (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.
1. BLAGA'S LESSONS (BULGARIA)
Starring the incredible Eli Skorcheva, the film is about a 70 year old retired literature professor from Shumen named Blaga. One day, Blaga receives a frantic phone call from a police officer stating that she’s in danger of getting robbed by a group of highly skilled scammers. The officer insists that if she cooperates, they will be able to arrest the culprit red-handed. Blaga must take all her money, put it in a bag, and throw it over the balcony. She does as she’s told. Little does she know that she’s been scammed. She’s lost all her cash and now she has nothing. Blaga must now figure out who to do next, and she’s desperate and alone. Anchored by an astounding performance and driven by a sense of bleak honesty, Blaga’s Lessons is a fascinating psychological drama about a woman who’s been violated, about a woman who’s entire life has changed because of one incident, about a woman who’s lost everything but not her willingness to fight back. Blaga goes to extreme measures to ensure her own survival, in a country where day to day life is hard. It’s a powerful exploration of desperation and the impact that it has on one’s well-being, both physically and mentally.