Pete Hammond

Is Oscar influencing presidential politics in Brazil? Controversy recently erupted when the movie biography of that country’s enormously popular President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was chosen as Brazil’s official entry for the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Language Film race. Problem is, the selection came just 10 days before this Sunday’s Presidential election. Lula is not running again even though he enjoys a popularity rating of 75%, but his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, is. Some factions are crying foul, saying the film was only chosen to boost Lula’s interests and help his protegé Rousseff’s by association. The argument against anointing the film, Lula, o Filho do Brasil (Lula, The Son Of Brazil) is given further credence because it was widely considered a commercial and critical flop when it opened earlier this year. Yet it beat 22 other candidates — while Rousseff has erased a one-time 10 point deficit in the polls and taken a new commanding 20 point lead heading into Sunday’s vote.

Many critics think Brazil’s selection should have been Wagner de Assis’ Nosso Lar (Our Home), based on a popular book written by the leader of Brazil’s spiritualism movement. That pic was reportedly the country’s most expensive home-grown production ever at about $11 million and has won high praise and big box office since its release a month ago. But officials for Brazil’s government bodies that instead made the selection of the prez biopic  – The Culture Ministry, Brazilian Film Academy, and National Film Agency — deny politics played any part. Lula, o Filho de Brasil certainly is pedigreed. It is directed by Fábio Barreto,  the youngest son of the well-known family of Brazilian film producers in Brazil, and covers the President’s life from his birth in 1945 to his emergence as a labor leader in the 1980s. “We voted for the film we thought was best, one that honors Brazilian cinema and has an actress like Gloria Pires,” Brazilian Film Academy President Roberto Faria told Thaindian News. The vote was said to be unanimous but Nosso Lar producer Iafa Britz throws water on that in comments he made in Vega. “I’ve never seen anything unanimous in my life. I can’t think of a single example of unanimity, but I prefer to keep quiet and accept [the decision].”

Meanwhile, the official list of all foreign language selections should be announced by the Academy in about a week and, just like clockwork, you can probably expect even more controversy to rear its ugly head. It’s not new that some countries make their selection as part of an internal political agenda. But many filmmakers including Magnolia President Eamonn Bowle think something needs to be done about this. Bowles argues the foreign language film process has become too politicized in some countries like Italy which just snubbed his international hit, I Am Love, in favor of another lesser known film. (OSCAR: First Foreign Language Film Flap) Even though the Magnolia pic stars Oscar winner Tilda Swinton and is one of the year’s higher profile foreign language films and is grossing nearly $5 million in the U.S. alone. Instead, Italy selected La Prima Cosa Bella (The First Beautiful Thing), a local hit family drama that won good critical notice but doesn’t have nearly the international profile of the Swinton flick.

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