The importance of Awards for foreign language and documentary features


Dec 25, 2016

Eighty-five films had originally been considered in the Foreign Language category, nine will advance to the next round of voting, including ‘It’s Only the End of the World’ by Xavier Dolan for Canada, ‘Land of Mine’ by Martin Zandvliet for Denmark, ‘Toni Erdmann’ by Maren Ade for Germany, ‘The Salesman’ by Asghar Farhadi for Iran.

Excellent exclusions are ‘Julieta’ by Pedro Almodòvar for Spain, ‘Elle’ by Paul Verhoeven for France, ‘Neruda’ by Pablo Larraìn for Chile, ‘Fire at Sea’ by Gianfranco Rosi for Italy, which however made the cut and will advance in the voting process in the Best Documentary category.

Alessandro Masi, international film and tv sales and distribution professional born and raised in Italy now based in Los Angeles with experience distributing both award-winning foreign language movies like ‘Mustang’ and ‘The Salesman’ for Cohen Media and documentaries, as he was awarded an Italian Golden Globe for ‘Suicide Italy’ as Best Documentary in 2013, and creator of market access with his brand FlexyMovies™, notes that “as for the Best Documentary category, this year the policy is seven days theatrical release in Manhattan OR Los Angeles County, OR significant awards in competitive festivals, whereas before it was seven days in NY and LA, thus it is now less restrictive and we see here the influence of the new digital players like Netflix and Amazon and the evolution in the consumption of this type of content”.

There has been some controversy regarding the candidature of ‘Fire at Sea’- a documentary – in the Foreign Language category, but Masi’s opinion is that “it is groundless because it is always opportune to candidate the best film, regardless of the genre. Also, ‘Fire at Sea’ deals with a very important issue and we have a duty to let the world know about the tragedy of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the competitors deal with topics that are closer to the American public (and to the members of the Academy) so ‘Fire at Sea’ will hardly win but it is Italy’s best movie of 2016 – in fact it was awarded a Golden Bear and an EFA – hence it deserved the candidature”.

Looking at all the candidates in the Best Documentary category, the strongest seem to be: ‘13th’, a Netflix original by Ava DuVernay (‘Selma’), about prison system in America, debuted at Sundance, had a limited theatrical release on October 7, 2016, and won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Documentary (tv/streaming); ‘Gleason’, an Amazon / The Exchange product by Clay Tweel about ALS and football, won the Audience Award at SXSW, debuted at Sundance and grossed about $600,000 released theatrically by Open Road on July 29, 2016; ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ by Raoul Peck about James Baldwin and the story of race in modern America, debuted at TIFF where ended up winning the People’s choice award and will be released theatrically by Magnolia / Wide House on Feb 3, 2017; ‘OJ: Made in America’, an ESPN Films original, by Ezra Edelman about O.J. Simpson, debuted at Sundance, limited theatrical release on May 20, 2016 and won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Documentary (theatrical) and the AFI Special Award.

“Releasing independent films theatrically, and even more releasing documentaries, is more and more adventurous. You need relevant festivals awards, great reviews, and very smart marketing and distribution strategies to create buzz. Monetization is linked to awards and festivals, but the process starts very early in the development and financing phases, where you need strong partnerships and a true global strategy” says Masi.

‘Fire at Sea’ was released theatrically in Italy but didn’t reach the €1 million, then it was released by Kino Lorber on December 15, 2016, in the US and grossed only $66,000 but thanks to festivals and awards it was sold everywhere in the world by Doc & Film International.

According to Masi, “broadcasters and increasingly digital players represent the main sources of monetization for documentary content, together with cutting-edge distribution strategies like Theatrical On Demand, which serves niches that otherwise would be ignored by traditional distribution patterns”.

During his career, Masi has contributed to the international sales and distribution success of award-winning indies like ‘Enter the Void’, ‘Goodbye Solo’, Wendy and Lucy’, ‘Barney Thomson’, ‘Captain Fantastic’, current Oscars contenders like ‘Manchester by the Sea’ and ‘Hell or High Water’, and box-office hits like ‘Beyond the Mask’, ‘Girl Rising’, ‘Margin Call’, ‘Jeepers Creepers’, ‘Rise of the Footsoldier’.

“I want to keep distributing high quality filmed content and ensure that art makes sense financially. There’s always going to be demand for independent movies, somewhere and somehow” concludes Masi.