Oscar shortlists for “universal” documentary

Bernard Michaux: “There’s somebody on Twitter who keeps reminding us that the Oscar voters are not film critics." Matic Zorman

Bernard Michaux: “There’s somebody on Twitter who keeps reminding us that the Oscar voters are not film critics." Matic Zorman

Two Luxembourg co-productions have made it to the shortlists of films that can be nominated for Academy Awards next month. Producer Bernard Michaux of Samsa Film talks about one of those films, documentary Collective.

Alexander Nanau’s Collective has been garnering critical acclaim and audience plaudits since it was first screened at the Venice film festival in September 2019 and shortly after at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Rolling Stone magazine picked it as one of the 12 films to watch.

Now the harrowing film, which follows an exhilarating and dramatic journalistic investigation into corruption in the Romanian health system following the aftermath of a deadly fire in the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, has been shortlisted for an Academy Award in both the best documentary feature and best international feature film categories.

It is a great reward for Luxembourg producer Bernard Michaux's early faith in Nanau’s project. Michaux and Nanau first met at the Luxembourg City Film Festival in 2015, when the Romanian director and producer won the best documentary prize for his film Toto and His Sisters, Michaux explained in an interview at the end of January

“Then in 2016, when he was the president of the documentary jury [in Luxembourg], we really started discussing the project, even though he was not sure it would be something or not…” That was in March, and by the time they met again at Cannes in May that year Nanau had already shot some footage and was looking for a co-producer. Michaux jumped at the chance. “I was sure I would get my money back, even if the Luxembourg Film Fund didn’t come on board,” he says.

Michaux made himself available to Nanau 24/7, and the pair also involved the producer from HBO Europe, who had gotten on board the project.

“Then I don’t know how much time I spent in Bucharest in the editing room--they didn’t want to send any footage via the internet, because nobody knew what he was doing with the film,” Michaux explains. The corruption being unveiled in the film by Romanian journalists reached the upper echelons of government “Even in Luxembourg, the press release said it was an untitled project by Alexander Nanau,” Michaux explains.

“The first time, I watched 13 hours of film over two days. We were all so excited, because we knew that we really had something, and that it was so universal. At one stage we were even talking about making a TV series out of it.”

Watch the trailer for Collective.

When the editing was finished, much of the post-production--the colour grading and sound editing--was done back in Luxembourg. Composer Kyan Bayani, who divides his time between Luxembourg and Berlin, did the music.

“When it was finished, we waited, and Cannes did not want to take the film. But then, I got a phone call saying it had been accepted in Venice. And then, a few days after that, Toronto confirmed.” Since then the film’s reputation has snowballed and it made numerous critic’s end-of-year lists last December.

$100,000 marketing campaign

The film is being distributed in the US by Magnolia Pictures, which has also picked up Deux, the French entry for the best international film category that was co-produced by Luxembourg’s Tarantula. A $100,000 “for your consideration” marketing campaign with Magnolia and the other partners has already been launched in film trade papers to encourage Academy members to vote for Collective.

Getting on to the Oscar shortlist is not quite the icing on the cake. The films will be whittled down to five official nominations on 15 March, followed by the awards ceremony on 25 April. But for now, Michaux is grateful that Collective is on the two lists and is hopeful of reaching the next stage in at least one category. “For me, personally, best documentary would be great because that nomination and the Oscar goes to the producers,” Michaux said at the end of January--though now he has heard that the Producers Guild of America may yet put a spanner in the works of that process. And he remains realistic about the film’s chances despite it being a favourite with the critics. “There’s somebody on Twitter who keeps reminding us that the Oscar voters are not film critics.”