Oscar Spotlight: Days of Glory

BoxOfficeGuru.com examines this year's major contenders with the new Oscar Spotlight column. Each Friday, editor Gitesh Pandya talks one-on-one with the producers behind some of the most acclaimed films up for recognition this season.

This week, Oscar Spotlight talks to Jean Bréhat, producer of Days of Glory (Indigènes) which has been nominated for an Academy Award in the foreign language category. Representing Algeria, the World War II story tells of the forgotten North African Muslim soldiers who fought for France but were discriminated against by their military and government leaders. Director Rachid Bouchareb's gripping historical drama won the award for Best Ensemble Cast at last year's Cannes Film Festival before becoming a blockbuster hit at the French box office. Days of Glory has also earned nine Cesar nominations and will be released by The Weinstein Co. on February 16 in the United States.

Jean BréhatBox Office Guru: Where were you when the Oscar nominations were announced and how did you celebrate?

Jean Bréhat: It was very early in the morning for us. Rachid gave me a call as soon as he knew and then we decided to have dinner with the actors. It was very friendly, maybe six or seven people. [Actor] Jamel Debbouze was jumping … two meters, minimum! He's very small. The other actors were very glad, but Rachid and I were very frightened and stressed thinking of what's coming.

BOG: The film is listed as a French Moroccan Algerian Belgian co-production. How complicated was it to put together the financing for this film?

JB: It was tremendous work. We had been working on the financing since the beginning of 2004 and it took a year. While we were shooting, we were still financing and I finished the financing three weeks after Cannes 2006.

BOG: How long was the shooting schedule and how many countries did you film in?

JB: We shot only in Morocco and France and it was for 17 weeks. And with travel and everything it was 20. Everybody was preparing for being a soldier so everybody had to exercise and they had to learn how to use arms and use weapons. So a month before [shooting began], everybody came to Morocco.

BOG: Academy members must see all five nominated films in the foreign language category in order to vote. How has the response been at your academy screenings?

JB: I don't really know. Mr. Weinstein told us that it was very good, but I wasn't there. The feedback seems to be good. Of course nobody will tell you when it's bad. In fact, for the producer and the director who is there, it's always good, even if it's the worst that it's ever been in centuries. You will always hear that it's good. So it's a question where there is no answer for us. And we can't come out [to Hollywood] earlier for the Oscars because there is a small Oscar in France which is called César. We have nine nominations and regarding the Minister of Culture and the César itself and all the people, it's impossible for us not to show. So we'll all go there, but board a plane on Sunday morning. Césars are on the 24th which is why we can't come for the 23rd and 24th for the receptions for the Oscars. On Saturday night we are at the Césars and on Sunday morning we take the plane. That should be stressful…I think!

BOG: How do you see the market for non-English films changing in the U.S. in the years ahead?

JB: Well, it's very far from us and it's just through newspapers that we see how it is. It seems that the Americans themselves, especially Mel Gibson, made movies in foreign languages and it works very well. So I think it will change. Everybody will see movies on the 'net coming from everywhere in the world, so I think the most powerful thing with human beings is curiosity. When it will be here, and you can just click to see it, I'm sure that more and more people will try to see something else. I'm sure it's going to grow … in the American market. I'm not giving a lesson to the big studios, but what we have here is that it's almost like we're sleeping when you see they make the remake of the remake of the remake. I think something new coming from somewhere else could be interesting when otherwise it's the seventh or twelfth time that you see the same movie. But we have a very low focus for what's going on in the U.S. because we only have 100 or 200 movies a year coming from there out of the 1,000 or 1,500 that you have [total].

BOG: The film was released in France last fall. How did it fare with audiences?

JB: For this kind of a movie, it was really a huge success. We don't know in terms of Euros because [in France] we speak in terms of admissions. In France, we are still running and with the Césars and the Oscars we are going to put some more prints, but we are now at 3.2 million admissions. This is very very big in France, especially for a movie that is not a comedy. Usually above 2 or 2.5 million, except for huge blockbusters coming from the United States, it's only comedy. So the people didn't really believe we could raise the eyes. As for French war movies, the last one was maybe fifteen years ago. You [America] make a lot of war movies because it costs a lot and to be spectacular, it has to be well done with a lot of money. And so we don't have this in France.

BOG: Have the reactions been any different with audiences in Morocco and North Africa?

JB: Yes, a little different. Over there, I'm joking but not really, we were received as Gods. It's the first time they are recognized. This story of soldiers from Africa saving France from the South, while the Americans were saving France from the North, was not known at all. But it was very well known over there because there were over 300,000 [soldiers] so they have children and grandchildren. The story was going on, but only among the people who were concerned by the story. Everywhere we had been it was a million thank yous. It was incredible. It was strange for us to feel so much emotion coming out of those people. Sometimes it was too much because you just made a movie. We had a purpose and a goal which was to show that those people were there. It was a very big reaction.

Be sure to check back next Friday for a new installment of Oscar Spotlight.

2007 Academy Award nominations and grosses

Last Updated : February 9, 2007

Previous columns:

©2007 Box Office Guru