Iran is within their rights to submit whatever film they want, but there is an ethical concern in accepting “World War III” over “No Bears.” The Academy, with their twisty eligibility and submission rules when it comes to cinema made outside of the United States, is unwittingly allowing censorship to persist. If a repressive regime chooses to keep a film out of awards consideration, and throws the director into prison, isn’t the Academy subtly condoning that behavior by accepting their single, alternate submission?
“No Bears” has made it to an international audience, thanks to the French distributor Celluloid Dreams, so critics the world over have been able to see the film regardless — and in open defiance — of Iran’s actions. The Academy, meanwhile, didn’t even consider “No Bears,” as Iran didn’t submit it. Shrug. Look the other way. Don’t cause a stir. The censorship is especially odd with “No Bears,” as Panahi, while certainly being pointedly critical of Iran, was also obviously taking the wind out of his own sails.
It’s hard to say what the solution is. If rules changed to allow countries to submit multiple films, then countries with massive film industries — India, way — would be able to tilt the category more heavily. One might hope for a team of “Academy Scouts” to seek out eligible international films, but that would be a too massive an undertaking and would uncover more films for the single five-film international category than the whole of American film output in any given year.
At the very least, one might implore the Academy to expand the International category to 10 or even 15 entries. This is the entire world outside the U.S. Perhaps more attention ought to be paid.