Will ‘Footnote’ write Israel into the Oscar history books?

Will ‘Footnote’ write Israel into the Oscar history books?

Joseph Cedar film faces uphill battle -- and Iranian opposition -- at Academy Awards tonight

Filmmakers hoping for the Best Foreign Language Film award, including Joseph Cedar (second from left) at a pre-Oscars ceremony (photo credit: AP/Matt Sayles)
Filmmakers hoping for the Best Foreign Language Film award, including Joseph Cedar (second from left) at a pre-Oscars ceremony (photo credit: AP/Matt Sayles)

An Israeli full-length film has never taken home an Oscar, but that may change Sunday night as the nation places its collective hopes on the Joseph Cedar film “Footnote,” which is up for the Foreign Language Film award.

Israel has done relatively well at the Academy Awards to date. The nomination of “Footnote” marks the 10th time that an Israeli film has been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the fifth film in six years to compete for the foreign picture award.

Cedar, the writer and director of this year’s entry, is a second time nominee, having first been nominated with the military flick “Beaufort” in 2007.

This year Israel may finally have a win on its hands, at least according to some. A column in Haaretz asserts that this may be the first Israeli film to win the Oscar. And not just because it’s brilliant, Bradley Burston writes. Rather, the film gives Americans a poignant glimpse into the lives of real Israelis — no caricatures, no uniforms.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed hopes for the film at the beginning of his weekly address Sunday, saying “Footnote” was the last movie he saw.

“I very much enjoyed it,” he said. “It is a neighborhood film, about the academic neighborhood in which I grew up in Jerusalem.  While I was familiar with many of the scenes, I also saw that it has touched the hearts of very many Israelis, and apparently non-Israelis as well who have seen it.  I am certain that I speak for all Israelis: We wish Footnote great success at the Oscars this evening.”

“Footnote” follows the lives of two Talmudic scholars, a father and son, and winds through the complexities of their relationship as a prestigious award complicates their lives. Despite the film’s Jerusalem setting, the dialogue and emotions therein are universal.

Cedar told Reuters he found inspiration for “Footnote” in his own life. At a Los Angeles symposium ahead of Sunday night’s awards ceremony, the filmmaker described a time when he was the recipient of an award that he came to suspect was intended for his father, a prominent Israeli biochemist.

That experience gave life to “Footnote,” in which a similar mix-up occurs.

The film is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which this year has three nominees in the foreign language category — the three front-runners.

Apart from the Israeli contender, Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness,” a Holocaust-era movie set in the sewers of Lvov, and the Iranian Golden Globe winner, “A Separation,” by Asghar Farhadi, are also up for the foreign language Oscar.

Rounding out the nominees are Michael R. Roskam’s “Bullhead,” from Belgium, and Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar,” representing Canada.

'Footnote' (photo credit: official poster)
'Footnote' (photo credit: official poster)

Leading up to Oscar night, however, “Footnote” has experienced its share of controversy. Oddly, Sony had only released one of its three nominated films — “A Separation” — in the US with any time to create Oscar buzz. “In Darkness” opened in New York on February 10, and “Footnote” is set to open in March, long after the lights have dimmed at the famed Kodak Theater where the awards are given out.

According to The Jewish Daily Forward, Academy members who vote in the Foreign Language Film category must affirm that they have seen all five of the nominated films. Sony co-president Michael Barker, speaking to the Forward, said release dates do not always correlate with awards when it comes to foreign films. However, when asked why the Iranian entry was released in December, Barker simply stated, “We were told it would win.”

Politics have also made their way into the Academy Awards this year, as in any scenario with an Israel-versus-Iran component. Farhadi skipped a pre-awards event last week, prompting reports that he was avoiding his Israeli counterpart. And at the symposium in Los Angeles, Reuters reported that he and Cedar sat on opposite sides of the stage. For their part, both Farhadi and Cedar have refrained from any rhetoric.

The refusal of Iranians to participate with Israelis in an organized event is more common in the world of sports than in Hollywood. Last year, Iranians chose not to compete against Israelis in several international sporting events, including the Swimming World Championships in Shanghai and the Wrestling World Championships in Istanbul.


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