Director Hany Abu-Assad’s “Omar” is still a contender for the 2014 Academy Awards, one of the nine movies shortlisted for Best Foreign Picture.
Abu-Assad’s romantic thriller filmed in Nazareth is considered Palestinian in origin and not Israeli, and that’s the way he always planned it. It was filmed by an all-Palestinian crew and produced with only Palestinian funding, a first for a Palestinian film.
Abu-Assad told The Times of Israel that he didn’t want to compromise on any aspect of “Omar,” a West Bank love story about a Palestinian youth forced to become a collaborator to the Israelis.
It’s a movie that’s remarkably similar in theme to “Bethlehem,” the Israeli film recently cut from the list of Oscar contenders. Both films were acquired for US distribution by New York distributor Adopt Films.
“I thought that both ‘Omar’ and ‘Bethlehem’ have a good chance, and I thought they would both on the list,” said Abu-Assad, adding that he met ‘Bethlehem’ director Yuval Adler briefly. “It’s funny that we had the same idea and didn’t know about each other.”
“Bethlehem” also tells the story of Palestinian-Israeli collaboration, but focuses on the intense relationship between a young Palestinian collaborator and his Shin Bet fixer.
“It’s a good movie,” said Abu-Assad of “Bethlehem.” “I’m not happy with it politically, but politics shouldn’t decide whether a movie is good or not. I’m always saying, ‘Don’t judge my movie by politics, but how it was.”
The politics of his own movie aside, there’s been more than a little discussion over the fact that Abu-Assad’s film is considered Palestinian, and not Israeli. Having been filmed in Nazareth, an Israeli town, and with several Israeli Arab cast members, including Adam Bakri, who plays the title role of Omar, and Leem Lubany, who plays Nadja, his love interest, several local media outlets have consistently pointed out the movie’s Israeli roots. But it’s 100% Palestinian, Abu-Assad insists.
“It’s actually comical,” said Abu-Assad. “It proves what I say, which is that it isn’t a big deal but politicians make it a big thing. It creates imaginary identities in order to lead and incite, which is why we have this conflict that most people don’t know what it’s even all about.”
For now, said Abu-Assad, he’s trying to keep calm as he waits for the announcement of the final five Oscar nominees on January 16. It isn’t his first time playing this waiting game; “Paradise Now,” his 2006 film about two men preparing for a suicide attack, was also one of the final five contenders for Best Foreign Film, and won a Golden Globe.
“I was there once, and I’m nervous because you know the process and the pressure and tension is big,” he said. “On the other hand, I know it’s just one big casino. I wish I could close my eyes and just wake up and it’s finished.”
The 2014 Academy Awards show will be held on March 2.