TORONTO – The secret to Canada’s recent Oscar nomination streak appears to be the sugary breakfast cereal Lucky Charms.
For the third year in a row, a Quebec director will compete for best foreign-language film at the Academy Awards and this year’s contender, Kim Nguyen, credits at least half of his good fortune to a bowlful of the stuff.
“Fifty per cent of the success of a film making it into the Oscars is making a good film and 50 per cent is eating Lucky Charms cereal —that’s what (past nominees) Denis Villeneuve and Philippe (Falardeau) told me, so that’s what I did,” Nguyen said Thursday in a conference call with reporters.
Last year, Falardeau noted he had a bowl of Lucky Charms the morning he learned his film “Monsieur Lazhar” made the Oscar cut. He reportedly did it at the suggestion of his producer, who also produced Villeneuve’s film “Incendies,” which was nominated the previous year.
Nguyen said he’s blown away by the nomination for his harrowing child soldier saga “Rebelle.”
“I’m completely ecstatic and dumbfounded as well,” Nguyen said.
A slight slip-up during the nomination announcement left him initially believing the film didn’t make the cut. The nominees were supposed to be announced in alphabetical order but weren’t.
“As soon as they said Chile we said, ‘Oh darn, that’s it, we’re done.’ And then … they said, ‘Canada, “War Witch”’ and we just screamed.”
“Rebelle,” also known as “War Witch,” will face off against Austria’s “Amour,” Norway’s “Kon-Tiki,” Chile’s “No” and Denmark’s “A Royal Affair.”
Nguyen freely admitted that “Amour” appears to be the big favourite, especially since it’s also nominated in the best film category. “Amour” director Michael Haneke is also up for best director and best screenplay.
“Strategy-wise, we’re clearly the underdog in all of this in regards to Haneke. He has such a legacy,” he noted.
“I think we’re a strong contender but clearly there’s a strong heritage behind Haneke. And the fact that he’s nominated for two categories might go in our advantage — we don’t know yet but that could be very helpful for us…. Underdogs are appreciated, I would think, in the United States. There’s a place for newcomers so it could be to our advantage but who knows? Maybe he’ll win both.”
Nguyen said his schedule between now and the Oscar bash on Feb. 24 will be “nuts.” He said he’s flying to Brussels and Paris on Monday, then heads to Los Angeles, Montreal, then back to L.A. and likely New York to promote the film.
The goal now, he said, is to promote “Rebelle” and make sure that as many key academy members as possible see all five films. Members must see all five nominees in order to vote in the best foreign-language film category.
“We still have a lot of work to make sure that, for example, the Canadian members of the academy see all films and hopefully get behind us,” he said.
“At this point the film must fight for itself, in a way, but our job is to make sure that as many members of the academy can see it.”
There will be plenty of Canucks to root for at this year’s Oscar bash.
Toronto-based composer Mychael Danna is up for two Academy Awards: for best song and best original score for his work on “Life of Pi.”
And two Canadians are nominated in the best live-action short category: Halifax-raised producer Ariel Nasr for “Buzkashi Boys” and Quebec actor Yan England for “Henry.”
Nguyen, whose “Rebelle” was inspired by an article about nine-year-old Burmese twin brothers who led an army of rebels, described Villeneuve and Falardeau as “dear friends.”
“We’ve been having these things, once a year, called directors’ clubs where we would just watch films and discuss whatever our projects were but mostly have fun together.”
He downplayed a recent report that suggested 2012 was a bust for Quebec films at the box office. Cinéac, a company that tracks receipts in Quebec, said last year’s share of the domestic market for Quebec films dropped to 4.8 per cent — the worst in more than a decade.
“All we can do is do the most powerful, authentic stories we can —whatever the theme, whatever the story — and hope it finds its way afterwards,” he said, noting that “it’s not just about money.”
“Rebelle” producer Pierre Even said the fact Quebec has earned its third Oscar nomination in a row proves its film industry is as vibrant as ever.
“It means that our films are, you know, the first tier of the world wide cinema so there’s no crisis here,” said Even, whose other film credits include “Cafe de Flore” and “C.R.A.Z.Y.”
“People from around the world are looking at Quebec cinema now and waiting for the new director, the new film that comes out of here.”
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly stated “Buzkashi Boys” is a National Film Board film