TORONTO — "Drunken Birds," about a lovestruck Mexican drug cartel member who becomes a seasonal migrant worker in rural Quebec, will represent Canada in the Oscar race for best international feature film.
A pan-Canadian committee of about 20 voting delegates chose the project — which includes dialogue in French, Spanish, English and Mandarin — out of a total of 10 films submitted for Academy Award consideration, Telefilm Canada said Monday.
Montreal's Ivan Grbovic directed and co-wrote the drama, which has the French title "Les oiseaux ivres" and was shot in the farmlands of Quebec and outside of Mexico City.
Jorge Antonio Guerrero and Yoshira Escárrega star.
Grbovic and co-writer/cinematographer Sara Mishara said they're thrilled to provide Canada's submission to the Oscars, expecting the honour will draw more eyeballs to a project they regard as a "cinematic experience" for the big screen, with subject matter that "can reach a larger audience outside of Quebec."
"It does ultimately talk about the relationships between the exploited and the exploiter and raises questions about, I would say, the way that the world economy works today and how we all either profit or don't profit or how we all coexist within that," Mishara said in a video press conference after the Telefilm announcement.
"It's not a documentary but when I discovered this theme, it was from a point of view of someone who had no clue there was foreign labour working the fields in Quebec," added Grbovic.
Mishara said the cast includes Mexican immigrants in Montreal, and that the script was influenced by "the people and the places that we found, which was also a very interesting process.
"So in that sense, although the film does not approach things in a documentary way, reality definitely helped shape and inform a lot of the decisions and things that we shot."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences must decide which films will move on to the next round of voting in the category, with a short list of 10 films to be revealed Dec. 21.
Films that make the final cut will be announced along with the other Oscar nominations on Feb. 8.
"Drunken Birds" premiered at last month's Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in select cities on Oct. 15.
It's Grbovic's second feature film after "Romeo Eleven" from 2011, which won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and the Discovery Award at the Namur Film Festival.
Guerrero stars as Willy, who falls in love with his boss's wife, played by Escárrega. After both go into hiding separately, Willy heads to Quebec in search of her. He becomes a seasonal migrant worker and finds his host family's domestic turmoil reflects his own experience in the cartel.
The team behind "Drunken Birds" is esteemed: producers Luc Déry and Kim McCraw of micro_scope have worked on illustrious projects including the Oscar-nominated "Monsieur Lazhar" and "Incendies," while executive producer Nicolás Celis's resume includes 10-time Oscar-nominated "Roma."
But Déry said "it's a very difficult year" when it comes to getting films sold internationally, noting "things go slower than usual" during the pandemic and there were fewer distributors than usual at TIFF.
"There's no U.S. distributor attached to the film at this point in time and it's one of the first things we'll take care of and hopefully can translate this (announcement) today into more interest," he said.
Telefilm says eight Canadian films have scored nominations in the international feature film category, previously called best foreign language film. Only one of them, Denys Arcand's 2003 feature "The Barbarian Invasions," has won the category.
Last year's Canadian selection was originally Deepa Mehta's "Funny Boy," but it was later disqualified from competing because the story's amount of non-English dialogue failed eligibility requirements.
Telefilm Canada then submitted Jean-Philippe Duval's French-language drama "14 Days 12 Nights'' instead, but it ultimately did not get a nomination.
Best international feature is awarded to a film produced outside of the United States with predominantly non-English dialogue.
The 2022 Oscars are scheduled to air live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on March 27.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2021.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press