For first time, two Israeli films vie for single Oscar

Click photo to download. Caption: "The Gatekeepers" director Dror Moreh. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

( In an unprecedented achievement for the Israeli film industry, two of the five documentary features nominated for the Academy Awards this year are Israeli submissions, Israel Hayom reported.

But some aren’t celebrating the news because they say the nominated films—“The Gatekeepers,” which features candid interviews with retired Israeli spymasters, and “5 Broken Cameras,” which tells the personal story of amateur Palestinian cameraman Emad Burnat, who documents clashes between his fellow villagers and Israeli soldiers—both cast Israel in a negative light. Lori Lowenthal Marcus of the Jewish Press wrote, “Calm down before kvelling” about the Oscar nominations.

The 85th Academy Awards will be held in Los Angeles on Feb. 24.

While Israeli submissions have become a near fixture in the foreign film category of the Academy Awards (“Beaufort,” “Waltz with Bashir,” “Ajami,” “Footnote”), this year will be the first time since 1975 that an Israeli documentary is up for the prestigious award. Thirty-eight years ago it was “The 81st Blow”—the first film in the Israeli Holocaust Trilogy—that was nominated for the prize in the documentary feature category, but it did not win. Needless to say, this is the first time that two Israeli films are competing for the same Oscar.

“This is an extremely emotional moment for me,” Dror Moreh, director of “The Gatekeepers,” said Thursday following the announcement. “I never dreamed that this journey, which began four years ago, would turn into a movie that would compete for an American Oscar. It is an enormous honor. Every person in the film industry dreams of getting this news.”

Burnat is from the village of Bil’in, the site of frequent Palestinian protests about Israel’s security fence. The movie’s title refers cameras that Israelis broke to stop what Palestinians called “non-violent” protests.

Palestinians claimed that protester Jawaher abu Rahma was hit by Israeli tear gas in Bil’in on Dec. 31, 2010, but an IDF investigation later revealed that she was never at the protest in question and died in a Ramallah hospital of an unrelated medical condition.

“No doubt the true story behind the death of Jawaher abu Rahma, on December 31, 2010, was not included in the movie,” Marcus wrote for the Jewish Press. “But the story behind her death might do a better job of educating the world about the conflict than a movie like ‘5 Broken Cameras,’ which simply promotes the standard, one-sided, often false, understanding of the conflict.”

Additionally, Marcus wrote that the way “The Gatekeepers” depicts Israel’s Shin Bet security agency presents the Jewish state “in the caricatured fashion the world has come to expect, as peopled by brutal thugs whose goal in life is to do nothing more than make the lives of the poor, non-violent Arabs as difficult as possible.” Marcus cited a review by Slant Magazine that she said had little basis in reality. The review said Moreh in his interviews for the film was “squaring off against intelligence officers who didn’t just execute systematic torture, abuse, and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ but devised them.” 

Posted on January 11, 2013 .