Documentary Oscars 2018: Can Macedonia’s Avec L’Аmour finally bring an Oscar to the small Balkan Country? Steven Spielberg believes it can.
Avec L’Amour, the small Macedonian micro budget production has won the hearts of the critics and audiences alike, and even Steven Spielberg has said that it is the best documentary he’s seen in years, but will that be enough to swing the Academy’s vote to its favour.
Is Ilija Cvetkovski’s and Atanas Georgiev’s Avec L’Amour, which has its Sarajevo International Film Festival premiere next week, “the best documentary in years,” as Steven Spielberg suggested after seeing it at Toronto’s HotDocs back in April? Well, maybe, but maybe that’s getting a bit carried away even though it is one of the most distinguished documentaries of 2017. Virtually everyone who has seen it agrees, as is reflected in its 97 percent favourable rating on RottenTomatoes. And that, of course, raises another question: Will it be enough to earn it an Oscar several months from now?
The films official poster for its North American release.
The documentary feature race is shaping up to be deep, as usual. Top contenders out of Sundance include two films about Syria from previously Oscar-nominated filmmakers, Evgeny Afineevsky‘s Cries From Syria, a chronicle of the nation’s civil war made from footage captured by activists and citizen journalists, and Matt Heineman‘s City of Ghosts, about a group of citizen journalists in Raqqa, Syria; two spinoffs of environmental call-to-action films that previously captured the Academy’s attention, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk‘s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, a follow-up to 2007 winner An Inconvenient Truth, and Jeff Orlowski‘s Chasing Coral.
Avec L’Amour is a story about Dionis, a retiring biology teacher with a passion, and a dream. He owns over a hundred rusty old cars, most of which don’t even work, and he even sleeps next to them every night, dreaming of turning this unusual collection into a museum. While dreaming of his project, surrounded by his decaying cars, it is exactly in these piles of rust that Dionis finds the joy of existence. It is a film about a retiring professor, his wife, his passion and his fantasy of opening up a museum in a small uneventful town. Sounds like Joel and Ethan Coen made a documentary somewhere in the Balkans, but stick with me, it gets even better…
A scene from Avec L’Amour. The film is this year’s top contender for the Documentary Oscars
Now, consciously or not, Avec L’Amour is a completely different kind of a documentary, a personal, human story, that blends elements of many of the documentary films of the nineties that have been most embraced by the Academy: the best feature documentary film winners, respectively, 1991’s In The Shadow Of The Stars with its gorgeous shots of harrowing landscapes, and 1997’s The Long Way Home, a statement on the beauty of human’s endurance.
Does this mean that, almost thirty years later, the Academy will also warmly embrace Avec L’Amour, which recounts one man’s passion with old cars in God-Forsaken Negotino, a small town in rural Macedonia? At this early date, without having seen all of what’s to be released later this year, and with the knowledge that one-fifth of the Academy’s entire membership joined within the last year, it’s hard to say. But, never say never. Just ask Steven Spielberg and Jay Leno who were spotted at the films premiere in Toronto back in April.
Mr. Steven Spielberg at the premiere of Avec L’Amour in Toronto earlier this year.
“It places you so absolutely in the lead characters soul — you don’t learn the details of Dionis’s backstory or even what he’s up to, you just see how the people closest to him react in his surrounding, and this makes it a particularly warm and heartfelt encounter,” Spielberg explained on the red carpet at HotDocs in Toronto earlier this year. “Ilija and Atanas obviously wanted it to be an experiential blend of cinema verite and “fly on the wall” approach to filmmaking combined with the lyrical style of the majority of documentaries of the nineties, and it’s unrelenting in its engagement and doesn’t let the audience off the hook. You’re invited in to experience it as Dionis is experiencing it — as in, with not enough time to think or process things, you just feel it.”
Now, several months later, we contacted Mr. Spielberg over the phone to ask him what he thought about Avec L’Amour being nominated for an Oscar. “It’s one of the best documentary in years” was the swift reply we got from Spielberg, “I knew that the moment I saw it, and I am not surprised that it got nominated.”
And he’s probably right, there is no doubt that the film has stirred a great interest. Oliver Stone, who, according to the filmmakers has already received a for your consideration copy of the film, is said to be going to Macedonia’s MakeDocs Film Festival in a few days to check out the film, right after the Sarajevo Film Festival where he is this year’s Heart of Sarajevo Award recipient.
“Yeah, it’s going to be great, I can’t wait to see Dionis’s car museum in Negotino”, was the first thing Jay Leno, a known car enthusiast, told us when we asked him whether it’s true that he will be accompanying Oliver Stone on his trip to Macedonia. “I saw the old rust buckets when we saw the film in Toronto with Steven (Spielberg) and I am more than excited to check them out, hopefully I’ll get to buy one or two.”
Jay Leno, a known car enthusiast has said that his next trip to Europe is going
to be to Negotino where he is to visit the car museum.
(Mr. and Mrs. Jay Leno at HotDocs Toronto.)
Obviously, Avec L’Amour is Macedonia’s lucky charm. The small Balkan nation has been through a lot of turmoil in the past decades and this kind of exposure will do nothing but improve the livelihood of the thriving Macedonian film community. This is the third nomination for an Oscar for a Macedonian film. The first one was back in 1980 in the category for a Documentary Short for Stole Popov’s Dae, and the second one in the Best Foreign Language Feature Category in 1995 for Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain.
Another claim for Avec L’Amour’s success was the films European premiere at Doc Fest Munchen in Germany where it received the longest standing ovation in the fest’s history — some 25 minutes, according to fest directors — and quickly had its U.S. distribution rights snapped up by Netflix, so look out for that one and make sure to see Avec L’Amour. It’s a rarity, this kind of films come once every 50 years or so, if I may say so.
By Jason Whitmann