Mar 09 2014

‘Omar’ Oscar nomination a win for Palestinian film industry

Published by at 12:39 pm under Articles,Uncategorized


By Daoud Kuttab

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences met for the 86th Oscars, Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir hosted an all-night party in Amman, hoping Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar” would win the trophy for best foreign film. “We are burning the midnight candle and crossing our fingers,” she told Al-Monitor before the results were known in the very early hours of March 3. Jacir’s late-night party echoed a similar party she held eight years ago in Ramallah when another Abu-Assad film, “Paradise Now,” was also up for an Oscar.

“Omar” did not win the award, which went to the Italian film “The Great Beauty.” Jacir, whose latest film “When I Saw You” has been well-received around the world, insists that “the fact that Hany made it this far and that Palestine was represented despite attempts to keep Palestinian voices out of the mainstream is a major achievement.”

Saed Andoni of Dar Films wasn’t surprised that “Omar” did not win an Oscar. Speaking to Al-Monitor from his studio in Ramallah before the results were known, Andoni predicted that the Palestinian film would not make it. “These prizes are political,” he argued, stressing that being nominated is an “important win for Palestinian cinema that has been forcing itself on all festivals.” Andoni, who’s in the final phase of producing “The Wanted 18,” a co-production with France and Canada to be released in June, highlighted the economic side of the cinema business. “The importance of ‘Omar’ is that it was produced almost exclusively by private Palestinian funding.”

Funding of films is a familiar subject to Palestinian film director and philanthropist Omar al-Qattan, who worked with Palestinian director Michel Khleifi to produce a number of award-winning films. Both directors set up Sindibad Films, which has produced a number of acclaimed Palestinian films. Khleifi’s “Wedding in Galilee” won the International Critics Prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, an award that helped establish Khleifi and brought in international money for future films.

Qattan told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian success being present in Hollywood is sure to help financing for future films, especially from the Gulf area where “many Arab elites are heavily influenced by the culture of the United States.” As for the Palestinian film industry, he said, “I am sure people will be encouraged by the film’s success but unless this is a commercial success, other investors will hesitate, I think.”

Besides his filmmaking efforts, Qattan has spent time and money on helping the Palestinian film industry through training, mentorship and providing equipment in Palestine. The Qattan Foundation has set up centers in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip and has been involved in all levels of training young Palestinian filmmakers as well as providing fun and educational activities for children in Gaza.

In the Gaza Strip, filmmaker Abdel Salam Shehada was thrilled about the success of “Omar.” He told Al-Monitor that people in the Gaza Strip were following the Oscars as if it was news about “Mandela being released from prison.” Shehada is one of this generation’s leading documentary filmmakers. Shehada, who made his debut as a film diarist in “Palestinian Diaries,” said that seeing the name Palestine during the Oscars made him “proud” and allowed him to forget the fact that he is “living in a large prison.”

The Palestinian intifada has also been an inspiration for another award-winning Palestinian filmmaker. Najwa Najjar, whose previous film “Pomegranates and Myrrh” won international awards, spoke to Al-Monitor about where she sees Palestinian cinema going.

“Palestine has won,” she proclaimed. “It is a significant moment that the name Palestine has entered into the mainstream.” However, Najjar cautioned against exaggerating the meaning of the Palestine entry. “We have started, but have not yet won the narrative battle. We have many stories to tell and the world is ready to hear us now.”

While most filmmakers contacted were full of praise for the Palestinian success in Hollywood, some were less enthusiastic. For his part, Qattan cautioned about having too many expectations from Hollywood. “As someone who loves cinema and knows how complicit Hollywood has been in promoting reactionary, anti-Arab politics, my only concern is how very keen many of us seem to be to please … Hollywood!”

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