By Derrik J. Lang, AP
BEVERLY HILLS, California — Ciro Gueera always knew he wanted to shoot his film “Embrace of the Serpent” in black and white and on 35mm film, a now-scarce resource in today’s digital world.
“We were in the blind,” the Colombian filmmaker said during an event Saturday celebrating the Academy Awards’ foreign language nominees. “That’s so exciting. We had two takes. Everything you see in the film is either take one or take two.”
“Embrace of the Serpent” is among the five films that will be vying for the foreign language Oscar at Sunday’s 88th annual ceremony. It’s the first Colombian film up for the honor.
Gueera told the crowd at the motion picture academy’s headquarters that because of the time involved processing 35mm film, he wasn’t able to see the first images from his movie about an ill German explorer lost in the Amazon until about three weeks into production.
“It reminded me when people took pictures of their families on reels, when images meant something,” said Gueera. “Now, people take 17,000 images when they’re on vacation and never look at them again.”
Laszlo Nemes similarly fought for the stark vision of his nominated film “Son of Saul,” which was also shot on 35mm film and is presented in an old-school, box-like aspect ratio instead of the now-prevalent widescreen format.
“Son of Saul” depicts a harrowing day within a crematorium at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Nemes said he and cinematographer Matya Erdely wanted to bring the horrors of the Holocaust to life on film.
“I felt I had this mission to talk to today’s audiences, when their impression of the Holocaust is kind of static, as if it were in a history book or something taking place on another planet,” said the Hungarian filmmaker. “What if this took place in our civilization? This feeling of hell on earth has never been communicated.”
“A War” writer-director Tobias Lindholm took a very different approach to crafting his modern-day movie about a Danish military commander during the war in Afghanistan. He treated the digitally shot film like a documentary, especially when filming amateur Middle Eastern actors portraying refugees.
“If I came with a script and wanted to prove their version of reality, it would be a white man’s version of something,” said the Danish filmmaker. “I’m heterosexual. I’m tall. I’m blonde. I’m Scandinavian. That’s pretty privileged in this world.”
The other nominees competing for the foreign language Oscar are the French film “Mustang,” which centers on five Turkish sisters facing prearranged marriage, and the Jordanian film “Theeb,” about a Bedouin boy and his brother escorting a British officer across the desert.
“At some point, we said we don’t need anyone’s permission,” said “Theeb” writer-director Naji Abu Nowar when asked about the difficulties of financing his movie, the film Jordanian film up for an Academy Award.
The filmmakers in this year’s foreign language film category are the youngest in recent history. They’re all under 40 and three are nominated for their first-ever feature film.
“Every year, I look at our five foreign nominated films and I say they’re so much better than the ones that are nominated in that other category,” joked Mark Johnson, chairman of the academy’s foreign language film award executive committee.