“Collective” director Alexander Nanau says that after he watched all of this year’s Oscar nominees in the Best International Feature race he felt as though he had “lived different lives around the globe” and that he could understand so much more about the world.
It’s something he says is true of this category at the Oscars more than any other. And in a panel discussion Wednesday with the directors of all five Oscar nominated films in the International Feature race, the directors took turns sharing how moved they were by these stories that felt both universal and deeply personal and specific to their region.
“We live in a much smaller planet. Whatever happens 3,000 or 5000 kilometers away, we see that we are alike, our countries are alike, our leaders are alike, that our life challenges are alike,” Nanau said. “In this category, all the films somehow gave you exactly that. You feel transformed, and you feel you had a life experience, and you feel enriched.”
Steve Pond moderated TheWrap’s awards panel Wednesday, and he was joined by Derek Tsang, the director of Hong Kong’s entry “Better Days,” Nanau on behalf of Romania’s “Collective,” Jasmila Zbanic for “Quo Vadis, Aida?” from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kaouther Ben Hania for “The Man Who Sold His Skin” from Tunisia and Thomas Vinterberg from Denmark’s “Another Round.”
Vinterberg, who is also nominated for Best Director for his work on “Another Round,” specifically singled out “Collective” as an example of how it gets into rich detail about how people in Romania live and work in a way that ironically makes it feel universal.
“I’m interested in avoiding the general and how these international films allows them to be super specific from their own region, growing out of their own soil and bringing their own details and level of specificity,” Vinterberg said. “I find that incredibly important and rich.”
Ben Hania said when she met Nanau, she said “Collective” felt like it was specifically about her own country of Tunisia rather than a documentary about Romania and its shocking details of the country’s corrupt healthcare system. Her film “The Man Who Sold His Skin” is about a Syrian refugee who sells his body to be used as a work of art as a means of fleeing his country, only to realize he’s given away much more than flesh. It’s a world apart from any of the other films nominated at the Oscars in 2021, but she says its important for artists and filmmakers from a country to have a voice.
“In every movie you can find some part of yourself, and I think for the five of us, it’s very diverse,” Ben Hania said. “It can change our way to see the world, and the countries that have cinema and movies, they have a kind of soul. They have somebody who dreams in contrast with a country where you have censorship…You think about the audience as something independent of their nationality. What we share is storytelling. Storytelling is something above nationality.”
Zbanic said for “Quo vadis, Aida?,” which follows a woman trying to find shelter for her family after the Serbian army takes over a small town, she had to deal with extras who had emotions triggered because they had lived through similar horrors inside concentration camps. The film is inspired by true events, and as a result everyone involved on the film knew the importance of trying to tell the story for people not just in Bosnia but around the world.
“I had a feeling that so many people wanted this film to exist, we tell our story. That we got such enormous support from ordinary people who helped us a lot, and we managed to make the film,” Zbanic said. “In each film of the directors who are here, I can sense this very important part of watching these films is you are changing after watching. After each film, I had such a strong emotion and a way of looking at the society in a different way, they didn’t offer something that was already known.”
Tsang, whose film “Better Days” is a drama and romance about a high school girl subjected to intense and violent bullying after her friend commits suicide, said he included many details that would only be recognizable to people in Hong Kong and who have lived through similar trauma. But he researched acts of bullying from around the globe and knew his film had to reach whomever might see it.
“Good foreign films should always have that very specific story, that locality to the film, but you also find that universality to it,” Tsang said. “It’s always very fascinating to find that even though there are so many details and customs that are different from you, but it’s heartwarming to find that in the end we are all one, we are all human beings, we go through the same emotions.”
Check out TheWrap’s full conversation with the directors of this year’s Oscar nominees for the Best International Feature race here and above.