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Nominee drama ‘Omar’ from Palestine Academy drops ‘territories’ in reference

BEVERLY HILLS, California, Jan 17, (Agencies): Thursday’s Oscar nominations had some new language in the foreign language category: Nominee “Omar” was described as being from “Palestine,” a reference the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has carefully avoided in the past. “Omar,” a drama set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was directed by Hany Abu-Assad, whose 2005 thriller “Paradise Now” was also nominated in the foreign language category. But after a tussle with the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, the academy chose to refer to the film as a product of the “Palestinian Territories” or “Palestinian Authority,” rather than simply “Palestine.” After hearing the news of his latest nomination and how it was identified, Abu-Assad said Thursday that having the academy refer to his entry as being from Palestine was a step in the right direction.

“The world starts to recognize that without giving the Palestinians a just solution, there will always be problems, there will always be something wrong,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m happy to get recognition from people in this business and to represent Palestine,” he added. “It’s not a country yet, it’s not a state, it’s a nation fighting for equality and freedom and justice and to represent that is an honor.” Assad said he’s also received positive reviews for “Omar” in Israel, whose own Oscar entry,  “Bethlehem,” focusing on the relationship between an Israeli agent and his Palestinian informant, did not receive a nomination on Thursday. Regarding its apparent change in policy about describing Palestine, academy spokeswoman Teni Melidonian said, “We follow United Nations protocol. This is not a political situation at all. We are just in the business of honoring filmmaking.” Israel’s culture and foreign ministries and the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined to comment.

Recognition
Rabbi Marvin Hier, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, had more to say: “Getting the academy’s recognition may be nice for the Palestinians, but the only recognition that really counts is the recognition that will come when they reach an agreement with the people of Israel,” said Hier, a member of the motion picture academy. “Legally, there is no such country as Palestine until there will be a settlement of the Palestine-Israeli conflict.” In related story, as Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad reflected on his second Oscar nomination for best foreign language film while hiking in the hills near Los Angeles on Thursday, he evoked the special sweetness the distinction carries for filmmakers from small, developing corners of the world.

“It means a lot to me, personally,” Abu-Assad said in a telephone interview, “because it will give you more opportunities to finance your projects and attract actors.” Abu-Assad’s film “Omar” about friendship and betrayal after three Palestinians murder an Israeli soldier, along with Cambodia’s Rithy Panh’s “The Missing Picture” represented the outsider countries nominated for best foreign language film, vying for the honor against dramas from established film industries in Italy, Denmark and Belgium. “It’s actually the same challenge as everywhere, financing film,” Abu-Assad said. “We don’t have a real infrastructure for cinema (in Palestine) because we’re still under occupation; it’s not easy to move.”

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which will hand out the Academy Awards on March 2, winnowed down 76 competing foreign films to nine in the first phase of the nomination process before announcing the final five. “The toughest recognition to get is from the people who know the business well,” Abu-Assad said. “When you make a movie, you want recognition that you made a good movie and such a nomination gives you that recognition.”

Nomination
Streaming TV and movie provider Netflix won its first Oscar nomination Thursday for “The Square,” a documentary about the 2011 revolution and ongoing strife in Egypt. The movie, to be released on Friday, recounts the turmoil in Egypt centered on Cairo’s Tahrir Square since the uprising nearly three years ago that ousted long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Netflix made television history last year when its political drama “House of Cards” became the first online-only series nominated for a major Emmy award. Last weekend, Netflix won its first Golden Globe, with Robin Wright taking best drama actress for her “Cards” role as the wife of Kevin Spacey’s scheming congressman Francis Underwood. It bought the streaming rights for “The Square” in November, after the documentary won critical acclaim on the festival circuit.

The film follows the revolution through the eyes of six different protestors, starting in the tents of Tahrir Square before Mubarak’s fall, according to the movie industry website IMDb. “This film and this nomination is in honor of not only people in Egypt, but for all who are still struggling,” the film’s director Jehane Noujaim said in a statement emailed to AFP. “We made this film to tell the stories of people who are risking all that they have to fight for change — and to share their hopes and dreams with the world,” he added.

He added: “Making this film took us into Tahrir Square and revealed the beauty, power and courage of people — a courage that has taught us and inspired us, and has personally changed our lives forever. “The struggle for human rights and freedoms is a universal one and this nomination is an international recognition of that struggle and of that right to have expression. “The Square” is one of five documentary features nominated for the Academy Awards, to be handed out in Hollywood on March 2. The others are “The Act of Killing,” “Cutie and the Boxer,” “Dirty Wars,” and “20 Feet from Stardom.” “We are humbled to be sharing this honor with so many other critical films and very talented storytellers who have worked so hard to bring light to untold stories of the world,” said Noujaim.

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