In 2016, I set myself a challenge that would combine my love of geography with my passion for film. The goal is simple – to find and watch a movie from every single country in the world. Take a moment and think – from how many countries have you watched a film? What is the most obscure country that you can tick off your list? Depending on the definition, there are around 200 countries in the world today. Only a handful of them can boast thriving domestic film industries, while dozens of smaller nations may only have a few feature films in their entire history. This challenge has proven to be difficult, at times even frustrating, but also enlightening and incredibly rewarding.
In many cases, films from these small countries have proven difficult to come by. Many are unavailable online, and often DVD copies are no longer in circulation – if indeed the film ever made enough money to be released on DVD at all. I have scoured online marketplaces and libraries for battered old discs – and even VHS tapes. I’ve contacted film archives, distributors, and occasionally even the filmmakers themselves. Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the challenge, many of these contacts do not speak English. My research skills have been tested, but the joy and satisfaction that comes from finally procuring a copy of a film from some remote Caribbean island country or European microstate is unmatched.
What Counts as a Film?
The question of what counts as a film is trickier than it first appears, but my answer is, I hope, a strictly common sense one.
For the purposes of this blog, I have chosen to eliminate short films from my consideration and focus instead entirely on feature-length movies. I’m using the same definition as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which states that a film must be 40 minutes or longer to qualify as “feature-length”.
TV movies and online releases are allowed. Some sources, like the Cannes Film Festival, argue that a true feature film must have been played in cinemas if it is to be counted as such. While the majority of films on this blog do meet this criteria, I do not agree that it should be a necessity. Films are produced and distributed in a variety of ways around the world, and the stricter my definition becomes, the harder it is to find films from small or poor countries. A movie that was released in a single Ugandan bibanda (a small shack where guests pay a few cents to watch bootleg DVDs on a diesel-powered TV screen) is just as worthy of inclusion on the blog as a film that enjoyed a red-carpet premiere in London or Hollywood. As long as it’s a self-contained, feature-length work of moving pictures and sound, and originates from a particular country, it is welcome here.
What Counts as a Country?
The list of countries that I’m using is from the U.S. State Department. It includes:
- 193 United Nations Member States
- 2 United Nations Observer States (Palestine, Vatican City)
- 2 De Facto States (Kosovo, Taiwan)
In cases where a sovereign state is composed of more than one constituent country, I try to write an entry for a film from each constituent country. For example – rather than write a single entry on a film from the United Kingdom, there will be separate entries for films from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
What Determines Where a Film is From?
I don’t have a strict definition for a film’s country of origin. Especially in the twenty-first century, many films are international collaborations, although they usually belong to one country more than any others. The following are all factors that I take into account when choosing a film to represent a country, but none of them is sufficient to determine a film’s country of origin on its own.
- The Nationality of the Director
- A good indicator, but not enough on its own. Would you consider Casablanca a Hungarian film? Or Casino Royale a New Zealand one? Most strangely – American Beauty would have to be considered English!
- The Nationality of the Cast
- Again, not perfect. There have been plenty of examples of British actors starring in American movies, for instance.
- Shooting Locations
- Another important factor, but not always a decider. Is Star Wars Tunisian? Is The Hangover 2 Thai?
- Sources of funding
- This one seems reliable and objective, until you realise that many of the Hollywood blockbusters in cinemas are now defined as Chinese. Furthermore, filmmakers in small countries will often secure funds from international sources, but in my opinion this should not disqualify them.
- The Oscars
- If a film has been selected as a country’s submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, that’s usually enough for me. Obviously that doesn’t apply to enough films to fill my list, though. There are also oddities like Tanna, which was set and filmed in Vanuatu but submitted by Australia.
Ultimately, it comes down to common sense. I try to justify any choice of film that I predict might be controversial.
What’s With the Name?
Phileas Fogg is the protagonist of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Since this blog represents my trip around the world in 200-odd movies, I combined the name with “cinephile” and “blog”. It sounded cooler in my head.