Oscars Give More Power in Foreign Language Voting to LA Members (Exclusive)

The latest adjustment to the Oscars foreign category will allow Los Angeles-based “general committee” voters to also participate in the final stage of nomination voting

Last Updated: October 16, 2018 @ 12:34 PM

The Academy has made more changes in voting in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars, giving Los Angeles-based members who do most of the work in the first round of voting a bigger say in which films are nominated.

Larry Karaszewski, the first-year co-chair of the Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee along with Diane Weyermann, announced the changes to voters on Monday night at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood, where the Academy kicked off this year’s foreign-language screenings with a double bill of Japan’s “Shoplifters” and Montenegro’s “Iskra.”

AMPAS had already changed this year’s process by eliminating the requirement that L.A.-based volunteers from all branches of the Academy, the so-called “general committee,” see a specific group of films in order to qualify to vote. And it reduced the number of films that qualifies a voter from 17 or 18 down to 12.

The latest change affects the second round of Oscars foreign-language voting, in which the nine shortlisted films — six favorites chosen by the general committee, and three more films added by an executive committee — are narrowed down to the five nominees.

In the past, that narrowing had been done by three committees totaling 40 members, 20 in Los Angeles and 10 each in New York and London. (The L.A. committee included 10 randomly-selected members of the general committee, but the other 30 members were hand-picked by the executive committee chair and the Academy.) Those members viewed all nine shortlisted films over a three-day period and then voted for the five nominees.

Last year, the process was amended to allow more members to participate in New York, London and San Francisco, and to allow international members to take part by voting after streaming the nine shortlisted films.

But it still left some members of the general committee, who do the bulk of the viewing and voting over a two-month period of almost-nightly screenings, feeling as if they do most of the work but are left out of the process in the final stage.

So this year, any member of the general committee who qualifies to vote by seeing at least 12 films will be invited to take part in the Phase 2 voting after the shortlist is announced on Dec. 17.

Members who have already seen some or most of the shortlisted films in Phase 1 screenings will only be required to watch the ones they haven’t seen.

“The people in Los Angeles who are seeing so many films are really our core,” Karaszewski told TheWrap on Tuesday. “And to cut them out of Phase 2 seemed a little wrong.”

The change was well received by general-committee members at Monday’s screening, the first of 44 screenings of the 87 contenders that will take place over the next eight weeks.

Depending on how many general-committee voters choose to participate in Phase 2, it also has the potential to change the look and feel of the nominations. The old process typically resulted in a strong slate of nominees — and that slate usually included one or two of the films that were added to the shortlist by the executive committee, according to members who were aware of which shortlisted films were general-committee choices and which were exec-committee saves.

Because the hand-picked Phase 2 committees were typically closer in makeup to the executive committee than the general committee, their taste leaned toward the often-challenging films that were added to the shortlist.

But as more members of the general committee take part in Phase 2 voting, the sensibility could skew back toward more populist films, which could be good news for the kind of crowd-pleasing choices that make the short list but are not nominated (including, in recent years, “The King’s Choice,” “The Fencer,” “Labyrinth of Lies” and “The Liberator”).

Still, the presence of more Phase 2 voters in other cities, and particularly of more international voters who can stream the shortlisted films, will only make the final five harder to predict.

Oscars foreign-language screenings continue through Dec. 10 at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn and Linwood Dunn theaters.