Why Was Cuba’s Submission for Best Foreign Language Film Left Off the Academy’s List of Official Entries?

Lead Photo: 'Sergio & Serguéi' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'Sergio & Serguéi' still courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
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In early October, ICAIC – Cuba’s film institute – announced Ernesto DaranasSergio & Sergei as the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. The seasoned director’s dramas Conducta (Behavior) and Los dioses rotos (Fallen Gods) were previously submitted in the same category, so the decision was not surprising considering his latest premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars actor Ron Perlman in a supporting role.

Set in 1991, as the USSR is on the brink of collapse, Sergio & Sergei focuses on a Cuban professor – who conveniently teaches Marxism – struggling due to the economic crisis the island nation is facing. Sergio (Tomás Cao) is an aficionado of amateur broadcast radio and through this hobby connects with Sergei (Héctor Noas), a Soviet cosmonaut unable to leave his space station. Their unexpected friendship transcends cultural barriers and helps them cope with their specific challenges.

In a curious turn of events, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) released the list of international features accepted to participate in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race, Cuba’s entry was absent. Soon after, some Spanish-language outlets speculated that the Academy rejected the movie because it was a co-production with Spain or that it didn’t meet the language requirements (if a submission includes a substantial amount of English-language dialogue it can be disqualified).

Daranas told Remezcla via email he wasn’t really sure what went wrong. “This year, the selection was made close to the Academy’s deadline, but the producers tell me they submitted everything on time – including a copy of the film. They also don’t know what happened, even though they assure me they have inquired about the matter,” said the director.

An Academy spokesperson confirmed to Remezcla that AMPAS did not receive an official submission from Cuba this year. This presumably means that either the movie was never actually submitted or it reached AMPAS after the deadline passed.

Remezcla reached out to representatives from both ICAIC and MediaPro (one of the production companies behind Sergio & Sergei) but did not receive a reply.

The interview with Ernesto Daranas was translated from Spanish by the author for Remezcla.