Director Hany Abu-Assad is heading back to the Oscars — with what he insists is a Palestinian movie, even though it was partly filmed in Israel, with several Israeli actors. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences agrees with him.
The Nazareth-born filmmaker, who carries Israeli citizenship but identifies himself as a Palestinian, earned the second Oscar nomination of his career on Thursday when his feature film “Omar” was announced as one of the five films selected for this year’s Best Foreign Film category.
“Omar,” a romantic thriller filmed in Nazareth and the West Bank, earned considerable buzz since its debut at Cannes last year and was widely tipped to make it all the way to the Academy Awards. The film is notable in that it was made with an all-Palestinian crew and almost entirely with Palestinian funds (raised from a global network of local Palestinians and expats), making it the first-ever truly Palestinian film to see wide success.
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 that was also hotly tipped to earn a nomination but was cut from the running when the list was whittled down to nine contenders in late December. Both films were acquired for US distribution by New York distributor Adopt Films.
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 — some local media outlets have consistently pointed out the movie’s Israeli roots. But it’s 100% Palestinian, Abu-Assad insists.
Abu-Assad’s 2005 film, “Paradise Now,” also earned an Oscar nomination, but after a tussle with the Israeli consulate the Academy chose to refer to the film as a product of the Palestinian Territories, rather than Palestine. Notably at Thursday’s nomination announcement, “Omar” was described as a film from Palestine, and in all likelihood will be referred to in the same way at the Oscar ceremony on March 2.
In the meantime, like any nominated director, Abu-Assad is feeling jitters.
“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.”