Though his film “The Gatekeepers” is considered a front-runner for Sunday’s Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards, director Dror Moreh was playing it pessimistic hours before the ceremony, asserting that the film was not highly favored among those placing bets on the Oscars and claiming that he would be attending mainly to savor Barbra Streisand’s performance at the show.
“I know that ‘The Gatekeepers’ is not leading in the pre-Oscar betting,” said Moreh, whose compelling documentary features rare and remarkably candid interviews with the six living former heads of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service. One of the six, Yaakov Peri, has become a Knesset member with Yesh Atid in the run-up to the Oscars.
The film has been hailed, both by critics and audiences, for capturing Israel’s most secretive men in frank conversation about national security and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the dilemmas they face in trying to safeguard the people and state of Israel. “What’s most important to me,” said Moreh, “is the doors that ‘The Gatekeepers’ has opened for me.”
Peri told Channel 2 News on Sunday that the film was a “badge of honor” for Israel. He rejected criticism that the movie exposed secrets or was a was publicity stunt. “We didn’t tell national secrets — it’s the government that’s failed to find an existential arrangement with our neighbors [the Palestinians],” Peri said.
On Saturday, Moreh also dismissed claims that his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on international television was a publicity stunt to “campaign for an Oscar.”
“I don’t live in a dictatorship, I don’t have to bow to the prime minister,” he said. “With my nomination [for the Oscar] I represent the state of Israel and not the prime minister.”
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, had accused Moreh of selectively editing the statements of the former Shin Bet chiefs in order to convey a “Palestinian narrative.”
“The Gatekeepers” has had plenty of press in recent weeks, but was widely ranked second in the pre-Oscar betting, behind “Searching for Sugar Man,” a documentary about two fans’ hunt for American-Mexican musician Rodriguez, rumored to have committed suicide by a variety of means but found to be very much alive in Detroit.
Were Moreh to fail, Israel — formally at least — still has another contender for the same Oscar, “5 Broken Cameras.” Officially helmed by Israeli and Palestinian directors Guy Davidi and Emad Burnat, and funded in part with Israeli government money, the film is a personal record of Burnat’s West Bank village of Bil’in’s confrontations with Israeli soldiers at the security barrier, and is relentlessly critical of Israel.
Though it was labeled as an Israeli film during the Oscar nomination process, this is an association that Burnat bitterly rejects, saying that “we never gave it in as an Israeli or Palestinian film. But they know who gave it in, they know that it’s a Palestinian story and my personal story.”
Davidi played down the film’s chances, noting that it was a small, independent production, without big budget champions in Los Angeles.
En route to the Oscars last week, Burnat was held up by US immigration authorities at LAX. Only the intervention of filmmaker Michael Moore secured his entry into the US.
“Emad, his wife and 8-yr. old son were placed in a holding area and told they didn’t have the proper invitation on them to attend the Oscars,” Moore tweeted. “Although he produced the Oscar invite nominees receive, that wasn’t good enough and he was threatened with being sent back to Palestine.”
Israel has yet to take home an Oscar, despite some 10 nominations through the decades. Last year, Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote” lost out to Iran’s “A Separation.”
The three other films in the Best Documentary Feature category are “How to Survive a Plague,” “The Invisible War,” and “Searching for Sugar Man.”
“The Invisible War” is produced by Amy Ziering, daughter of Beverly Hills philanthropists Marilyn and the late Sigi (a Holocaust survivor) Ziering.
“Searching for Sugar Man,” a Swedish/British production, has plenty of Jewish connections. Tracking the bid by two South African music fans, Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, to ascertain what had become of the beloved 1970s folk musician Sixto Rodriguez — a Bob Dylan/Leonard Cohen/Don McLean type who was wildly popular in South Africa (and Australia and New Zealand) and utterly unknown in the US — it is co-produced by Simon Chinn, who already has one Oscar for 2008’s “Man on Wire.” Chinn is the son of Sir Trevor Chinn, long a leading figure in Anglo Jewry.
Segerman, too, is Jewish — from an Orthodox family in Cape Town — and said in interviews last year that he latched onto Rodriguez’s music because his “lyrics offered a drug-fueled escape from the harsh realities of life” and this was “wonderfully evocative and inspirational to young whites living under apartheid’s strict rules and censorship, who were searching for some kind of message or inspiration from the counter-culture happening in Europe and the U.S.A.”
Director Steven Spielberg’s hit film, the civil war-era biopic “Lincoln,” is nominated for a dozen Oscars. Another movie expected to win big is Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” which is based on a true account of a CIA operation to spring a small group of US diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.