Mother, the Bulgarian submission for this year’s International Feature Film Oscar race, has been deemed ineligible by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The film’s director, Zornitsa Sophia, announced the decision on social media this week.
Academy sources confirmed to Deadline that Mother has been rejected due to more than 50% of the spoken dialogue track being in the English language.
In her post, Zornitsa Sophia, whose 2004 film Mila From Mars was Bulgaria’s Oscar entry that year, explained that Mother‘s producing team had reached out to the Academy asking for clarification of the eligibility rule, which stipulates that “the recording of the original dialogue track as well as the completed picture must be predominantly (more than 50%) in a language or languages other than English.”
She said that the Academy’s response was that eligibility is determined by timing the duration of the English and non-English dialogue, so two members of her team, using stopwatches, independently clocked the length of the dialogue tracks. One of them measured the film’s non-English (Bulgarian, Swahili, Maasai) dialogue as being 30 seconds longer than the English dialogue; according to the other person, the gap was 1 minute, 35 seconds in favor of non-English speech.
Confident that the film fit within the Academy’s requirements, the team submitted Mother for Oscar consideration earlier this month.
The other contenders that competed against Mother for the country’s nomination included SpeculatorS (director Georgi Kostov), Escape (director Viktor Bojinov), In the Heart of the Machine (director Martin Makariev), To Put It Mildly (director Anri Kulev, animation), Petya of My Petya (director Alexander Kossev), Fishbone (director Dragomir Sholev), Shakespeare as a Street Dog (director Valeri Yordanov) and Phi 1.618 (director Theodore Ushev).
The Bulgarian selection committee, chaired by Oscar-nominated Borat star Maria Bakalova, has until October 3 to submit another film for consideration.
This is not the first time the Academy has rejected an International Feature Film Oscar entry because of the amount of its English-language dialogue; Deepa Mehta’s Funny Boy, which was submitted by Canada two years ago, was dismissed on the same grounds.
The news marks the second year in a row Bulgaria’s selection process faced controversy. Last year, the choice of migrant drama Fear triggered a slew of accusations, from an illegitimate vote to “systemic racism, sexism and denialism.” This time around, Bojinov pulled his film Escape from the running, alleging conflict of interest for one of the committee members. That member was subsequently replaced, but Bojinov did not resubmit his film.
Written by Zornitsa Sophia (real name Zornitsa Popgancheva) and Miglena Dimova and directed by Zorntisa Sophia, Mother is inspired by real-life events. It centers on Elena (Daria Simeonova), a theater director who is struggling to advance her career while trying to conceive with her husband, Leon (Leon Lucev). After hopes to start a family are dashed when Elena unexpectedly reaches menopause at 32, she redirects her energy towards a life-transforming theater program for orphans in Bulgaria, and later is invited to launch the program in Kenya.
The film, an international co-production, is set to open Bulgaria’s Cinemania 2022 in November.
The 95th Oscars are on March 12, 2023. The shortlists for the International Feature and other select categories will be released December 21 ahead of the nominations announcement January 24.
Here’s the current list of submitted films to the International Feature race.