Fair question, the ones who make this list of TSPDT, have they actually seen every single film ever made? I mean it's just going in circles to say not too much South American films are in a "top" films list when you haven't even seen them. And of course a problem with that is no one releases them. What will come first, the egg or the chicken on this?
In order to lobby successfully on behalf of a particular national cinema, you need enthusiasts prepared to do the ground work, and who also have sufficient connections (even if only via a blog at first) to raise awareness.
For instance, I watch dozens of Polish films every year, both trying to keep up with new releases (over the last ten days, I watched eighteen 2011-12 releases, or about a third of the annual output) and fill in the gaps in my knowledge of the national canon - and that accumulated knowledge is then tapped by a range of people including Sight & Sound
magazine, the Second Run and Arrow Academy DVD labels and the UK-based Kinoteka Polish Film Festival, plus assorted one-off commissions.
The downside is that a fair number of the films that I watch, to put it politely, aren't exactly masterpieces - but they have to be sifted through in order to dig up the gems, which often come completely out of left field. I certainly wasn't expecting Jan Komasa's The Suicide Room
to be one of the strongest debuts I'd seen in years, since it looked like a teen movie at first glance, and I discovered Wojciech Smarzowski's work in similarly unpromising circumstances (any random scene from either The Wedding
or The Dark House
could easily pass for a gross-out comedy, but he uses ultra-black humour to make very pointed satirical comments on Poland in both the communist and capitalist eras). But at the moment I doubt non-Poles or non-specialists will have heard of either filmmaker - as far as I'm aware, none of their work has been picked up for international distribution in an English-speaking territory, which is of course the next stage and the hardest to negotiate since it involves someone being prepared to pay four or five figures for the rights.
And it's only after that that they get a chance of being accepted as part of a widely-recognised canon, which can easily take decades - Mike Atkinson's piece in the current Sight & Sound
cites František Vláčil's Marketa Lazarová
as a film that's long been revered at home but which has been almost entirely ignored outside the Czech Republic until it was past its 40th birthday, and would probably be ignored to this day if it hadn't been for the passionate advocacy of people like Second Run in the UK and Malavida in France, both of whose DVD releases predated the first official Czech one by several years. And then from that you gradually build up an awareness of Vláčil's work - Second Run put out two more of his films and a box set, and the Czech Centre in London sponsored a near-complete big-screen retrospective that played on both sides of the Atlantic - but it can be a glacially slow process that's driven more by enthusiasm than money.
And with very few exceptions, the kind of films that get picked up by Criterion are ones that have already got past all these stages and which have been accepted as canonical - which is much easier to achieve if you're American, British, French, Italian or Japanese because the spotlight has been turned onto those five countries for decades. Whereas Hungary is still largely terra incognita
(especially if you venture beyond Miklós Jancsó and István Szabó), and Romania is still a comparative newcomer - though one that's had so much attention that I wouldn't be at all surprised if Criterion picked up a Romanian title in the not too distant future.