Foreign language directors gather once more before Oscars

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — One day after the Oscar-nominated directors of foreign language films issued an unprecedented joint statement decrying what they say is a climate of fascism, five of them gathered Saturday at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to put the focus back on their work.

The foreign language film race has been overshadowed and informed by President Donald Trump's seven-country travel ban, which resulted in the Iranian Oscar-nominated director of "The Salesman," Asghar Farhadi, announcing that because of the ban, he would not attend Sunday's ceremony.

Academy Governor Mark Johnson, who moderated the discussion, said that he has talked to Farhadi several times in the past week.

"He has made it clear that he is so humbled to be nominated again," Johnson said. "(He) has chosen not to come for I think reasons we all applaud and completely understand."

Farhadi previously won the Oscar in 2012 for "A Separation."

The statement, which was issued collectively but largely written by "Toni Erdmann" writer and director Maren Ade, was the result of a few meetings and emails about what the directors in the category could do to stand in solidarity with Farhadi.

"We wanted to do something if we could. It had a reasonably slow gestation, a few days talking about it, but it was really our collective view," said "Tanna" co-director Martin Butler of Australia.

"Land of Mine" director Martin Zandvliet added, "We thought it was appropriate to come up with something to show our support."

For Ade, it was simply the best way to convey what they were all feeling.

"At the Oscars, we don't know who will win, and the time there is very short," Ade said. "It's a complicated topic and an important topic."

Although films as disparate as a father-daughter comedy and a World War II-era land mine drama have been thrust into a political context that they never foresaw, during the panel the focus turned back on the individual films.

Ade, whose "Toni Erdmann," from Germany, was a favorite to win before the travel ban thrust "The Salesman" into the spotlight, said that she just "wanted to do a film about family and all of these roles that you play in your family."

A remake of "Toni Erdmann," a festival favorite, is already in the early stages of development with Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig attached to star.

Swedish director Hannes Holm, nominated for "A Man Called Ove," about a widower whose suicide plans get thwarted by needy neighbors, said that in adapting the somewhat comic best-seller he "found the love story of my parents hidden in there."

Danish director Zandvliet, whose "Land of Mine" is nominated, said that he bristled at the idea that the world thought of Denmark as a "happy fairy tale country where only good stuff happens."

"I thought it was about time to tell the story from the other side that we're also very hateful and lust for revenge," Zandvliet said. "I wanted to make one of those stories."

His movie, he said, while set in WWII, gained an important historical context.

"There was all the talk about closing down Europe, the Syrian refugees, everyone was a terrorist," he said. "Suddenly the movie became about how we treat each other ... The only way we can get people to listen is to show them something horrible."

The "Tanna" directors, too, wanted to tell stories of a place that few had heard about before — a tiny island just a three-hour flight away from the Australia mainland where four languages are spoken.

Ultimately, the celebration of the foreign language category, which Johnson said has gotten, "stronger and stronger," came back to the one director who wasn't there — Farhadi.

"All of you have signed a statement in response to things that are going on," Johnson said. "It's not just in defense of artists rights, but human rights. It's kind of remarkable."

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