Cambodian-French director Rithy Panh’s film The Missing Picture has moved a step closer to an Academy Award after being named as one of the final nine foreign language films in the competition.
The films announced on Friday were whittled down from a list of 76 revealed in October by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organises Hollywood’s biggest annual awards ceremony.
They will be reduced to five nominees next month, before nods in all Oscar categories are announced on January 16. The 86th Academy Awards will be held on March 2.
Panh told The Phnom Penh Post that being among the final nine was a significant achievement.
“If it can go on to be nominated, if we are lucky enough to be nominated, it’s better – but at this stage it’s already very, very good,” Panh said.
He said the film’s success had already thrown a spotlight on the Cambodian industry and shown it was capable of cooperating with international production companies.
“It’s important to open the country like this and cooperate with other production [companies],” he said. “Cambodia is a small country. It’s not really a big market. If you want to move [to the next level] you have to cooperate with other countries.”
The Missing Picture, which explores Panh’s experiences and memories of the Khmer Rouge period using miniature clay figures against stylised backdrops and archive footage, has already received one of film’s highest plaudits, winning the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes this year.
Panh is set to begin work with French director Regis Wargnier on the French-Cambodian co-production of The Gate next year after the two countries signed an agreement on cooperation. The film will be a dramatisation of the memoirs of French ethnologist Francois Bizot, who spent three months in a Khmer Rouge prison camp.
Cedric Eloy, chief executive at the Cambodian Film Commission, said the shortlisting of a Cambodian film for an Oscar showed recognition of the country’s capacity to produce films universal and accessible enough to be received positively worldwide.
“It’s very encouraging for future projects,” Eloy said.
He added that the Cambodian industry was developing positively “step by step” with more films being made, more questions asked about Cambodia and more contact with foreign producers.
“I’m sure if The Missing Picture gets the Oscar it will give [the local industry] a big push,” he said. “So of course we cross the fingers … but there are a lot of good films that are competing.”
The shortlist announced on Friday offered some unexpected snubs. Left out were highly-touted films such as Saudi Arabia’s first candidate ever, Wadjda by Haifaa al-Mansour, and Pakistan’s first entry in five decades, Zinda Bhaag.
Only two other Cambodian films have ever been submitted to the Academy Awards for consideration. Chhay Bora’s 2010 film Lost Loves, a love story set during the time of the Khmer Rouge, was submitted in 2012 but did not make the final shortlist. Panh’s 1994 drama The Rice People was also submitted.
The other films on this year’s shortlist are: The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (Bosnia and Herzegovina), The Hunt (Denmark), Two Lives (Germany), The Grandmaster (Hong Kong), The Notebook (Hungary), The Great Beauty (Italy) and Omar (Palestine).