My Journey to the Oscars: Abner Benaim, Director of ‘Plaza Catedral’

In a new series, Diversity chat with the directors of the films shortlisted for the International Feature Film Oscars to discuss their path to the awards, what they’ve learned so far, and what made them lose the scene sense.

Two in Abner BenaimThe films and documentaries “Invasion” (2014) and “Ruben Blades Is Not My Name” (2018), are the works of Panamanians entering the Oscars, but “Plaza Catedral“This is the first time a film from the country has entered the voting list. The film, which depicts a violent society with a gulf between rich and poor, won major awards at the Guadalajara and Panama film festivals. The film follows a grieving woman (Ilse Salas) whose life is changed when an injured street child (Fernando Xavier de Casta) appears at her door. Tragically, Xavier de Casta was shot and killed a few months before the film was released.

What does being shortlisted for the Oscars for Best International Drama mean to you?

Of course, that’s very good news for the film, for me and for Panama – this is the first time a Panamanian film has made it to the shortlist. As a director, it’s an honor to be shortlisted because it means that many of my colleagues at the Academy enjoy the film and connect with it on a human level. I have received very good feedback from people who have seen the movie and it means a lot to me. The significance of the film being shortlisted for the Oscars is that it gains worldwide visibility – which is very important to us. “Plaza Catedral” is a small movie from a small country, with a big heart and we wanted to share it. We want the film to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible, and for the message of the film to resonate with the audience, reach home.

By far, what was the most challenging aspect of your campaign?

I don’t like complaining about things that are generally too positive, like having the privilege of campaigning for the Oscars. I found the process very enjoyable, with a very steep learning curve, which was very enjoyable. And I’m lucky to have very nice and caring people on the team, so it’s been rewarding – especially since the film itself gets most of the work done. There’s only so much we can do to try to draw attention to the movie, and then when the members of the Academy play and watch it, the movie will succeed on its own, and thankfully, it did. Good results so far.

Although you were shortlisted in the international feature category, the best photo category did not feature non-English features. “Parasite” (2019) is the first winner in history. Do you feel that international voices are being stymied by the media and film critics?

All in all, I just see the Oscars as an extension of what’s going on in the culture in general and in the film industry in particular. For a lot of reasons. Of course, US movies in English, are positioned in the world as a standard. Even in your question you use the international term for everything that isn’t US, I think it’s mostly a result of traditional movie distribution channels – and that’s all changed quite rapidly since as the pandemic and the explosion of platforms broadcast more “international” productions globally. I am very pragmatic in these matters and think that as long as culture continues to move globally, international voices will receive attention. It seems inevitable at the moment, because of markets and technology, that more and more voices will be heard, not only from different countries and cultures, but also from underrepresented parts of the world. present in society. I hope that’s true and not just me being optimistic.

Are there ways to improve this process when it comes to awards season?

I think the best way to improve the process is to continue with an open mind to new members from all over the world, which is what the Academy has been doing in recent years.

When trying to get a consumer audience to watch an international movie, it seems to focus on the length of a movie, but when something like “Avengers: Endgame” has a three-hour run, people Marvel fans were surprised and said they could go longer if they wanted to. Is that fair?

I think people should choose what to watch and the duration doesn’t matter at all. If something interests you, you can watch it for as long as you like. What better proof than people (myself included) who don’t sleep at night because they’re engrossed in a bunch of movies? And on the other end of the spectrum, millions of people are interacting with 30-second clips on Instagram, TikTok, etc. Duration is, more than ever, just a convention.

The Academy has supported European countries, with Italy and France winning three times more than a country like Japan. How can we encourage more diversity from all countries across the globe?

By continuing to diversify the voters in the Academy.

You are representing your country in front of an American awards organization (although there are international voters). How do you feel about being an agent?

Cinema for me is one of the most effective ways to break down, avoid or simply forget about barriers like borders, languages, ideology. I think cinema has the ability to transcend all that and communicate directly with the viewer. I know I’ve been influenced by movies from many different places in my life and I always have them with me as part of what has shaped me, which is my nutrition, my inspiration, my excitement, and much more. So I feel really lucky to be involved as a filmmaker in this global conversation, and to be able to bring out my own thoughts and feelings through my films. I.

As the film that represents your country, do you have access to any government grants or funds for the campaign?

Yes, we have the support of the Panamanian Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Culture.

Members must opt-in to vote for the nominees for the international feature. On the Academy Streaming Room, they separate those movies and don’t charge for placing them on the platform. However, for $12,500, a film will be ranked in the best picture category, increasing the viewing opportunity, providing financial benefits to the studios. Not every filmmaker or country can afford to pay that fee. In addition, the Academy charges for emailing members with voting reminders and holding a Q&A. Do you find the nomination process fair? If not, how would you like to see it change?

Smaller movies are harder to get attention, and yes it would be nice to level the playing field a bit more, but overall, I feel it’s a fair process since there are so many cast members of the franchise. The Academy votes. So in the end, it’s about the movies and how they impact Academy members. Proof of that is that we are shortlisted with “Plaza Catedral”, a little known Panamanian film that only premiered a few months ago and until recently had no distribution. (Now Samuel Goldwyn Films is taking care of North America). That means the voters are already connected to the movie and that’s all it is.

This is your third work at the Oscars, with the previous two being documentaries. What is it about this subject that makes you want to tell it as a fictional film rather than a documentary?

From its origins, I think of “Plaza Catedral” as a TV series. Of course, it’s informed by a lot of what I’ve been through in the documentary world and in my personal life outside of cinema, but it’s always been treated as a fictional film because of its very nature. is the answer to the question “what if it happens?” question. What if Alicia, a well-to-do architect, let an injured child enter her house from the street. In fact, cases like this are very rare. It’s the content of stories and movies because it doesn’t happen every day. I think fiction is a great vehicle for expressing “what ifs”. What if we opened our hearts to others? What if we ask for help when we need it? And what if we were brave enough to help others even at the risk of putting ourselves in danger? These are the kinds of questions I want to address in “Plaza Catedral.”

And as in a dream, you are facing the fantasy, even though it is presented as reality. For that, I used many elements from my document background. I wanted to create real situations with real acting and put them in a fictional world. Most of the actors in the film, with the exception of Ilse Salas, one of the best actresses in Latin America, have never acted before, including Fernando De Casta, the main character.

Fernando was shot and killed a few months before the film was released. The strange and tragic ending that real life gives us tells us how the subject we are dealing with is realistic, beyond the boundaries of a documentary or a novel and beyond. cinematic scope. The film goes from fantasy to reality in the most tragic way. For now, we can only hope that the film will deliver a message against abuse of minors and that Fernando’s light will shine. My Journey to the Oscars: Abner Benaim, Director of ‘Plaza Catedral’

Fry Electronics Team

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