‘The Good Boss’ Director Fernando Leon de Aranoa on the Oscar Race: ‘Visibility Is Very Much Dependent on Budget’

In a new series, Variety catches up with the directors of the films shortlisted for the International Feature Film Oscar to discuss their road to the awards, what they’ve learned so far, and what’s taken them off guard.

Here, Variety talks with Fernando León de Aranoa, director of the Javier Bardem-starring “The Good Boss” (“El Buen Patron”), Spain’s Oscar entry, which is a big box office hit on home turf and has scored more Spanish Academy Goya nominations than any other film in history.

What does it mean to you to be shortlisted for the best international feature Oscar?

I feel a mix of joy and responsibility. It means following the steps of some of the greatest Spanish filmmakers who have done it before, being among a group of brilliant directors from all over the world and having the opportunity of showing “The Good Boss” to a wider audience.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of your campaign thus far?

To make our film visible amidst the strong contenders. It still is.

Although you are shortlisted in the international feature category, the best picture category has been devoid of non-English language features. “Parasite” (2019) was the first winner in history. Do you feel international voices are siloed in media and film criticism? 

That has been the case for many years. I feel this is beginning to change, and international films are getting more attention lately. But they are still far from being highlighted.

Are there ways to improve this process when it comes to awards season?

Visibility is very much dependent on budget. It is difficult to think that independent or small international films are going to get the same attention as productions backed by strong distribution companies.

When trying to get consumer audiences to watch an international feature, there seems to be a focus on the length of a movie, but when something like “Avengers: Endgame” gets a three-hour runtime, Marvel fans are ecstatic and say they could go longer if they wanted to. Is that fair?

The length of a film should be conditioned by the demands of the storytelling, regardless of the type of film we are talking about.

The Academy has favored European countries, with Italy and France winning triple the number of times than a country like Japan. How can we encourage more diversity from all countries globally?

I don’t think diversity depends only on the origin of the film as much as on the perspective and sensibility of the person who is telling the story.

You are representing your country to an American awards body (although there are voters who are international). How do you feel about being that representative?

I feel grateful to the Spanish Film Academy for selecting my work to represent our country. I think “The Good Boss” tells a universal story, that hopefully will mean something to audiences everywhere.

As your country’s representative film, is there any government grant/fund you can access for the campaign?

There are some funds coming from the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade.

Members have to opt in to vote for nominees for international feature. On the Academy Streaming Room, they separate those films, and there is no charge for placing them on the platform. However, for $12,500, a film will be placed on the best picture section, adding an increased chance of viewing, which benefits financially lucrative movie studios. Not every filmmaker or country has the means to pay that fee. In addition, the Academy charges for email blasts to members with reminders to vote, and hosted Q&As. Do you find the process of getting nominated fair? If not, how would you like to see it change?

As mentioned before, visibility is a matter of budget. Not only in the ways you mentioned, but also in terms of the huge campaigns some films are able to do, which not every film can afford.

In “The Good Boss,” Javier Bardem plays the head of a factory who charms his employees by sheer force of charisma.  Have you sensed that your critique of charismatic leaders has resonated with the U.S. press and audiences?

Yes, for sure. It is not only about charisma, but more so about how it’s used. The film talks about how we use the power that we have over other people, about abuse, paternalism and other wrong dynamics in a workplace, which, I think, are the same in the US.

What has been the most memorable experience to date of your Oscar campaign?

I’ve had the privilege to have the support of people as talented as Daniel Burman or John Turturro, who acted as host for us at a New York screening. Their warmth and their generosity remain with me.

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