Israeli short ‘Aya’ nominated for Oscar

Israeli short ‘Aya’ nominated for Oscar

For 2015, Academy places Jerusalem Film Festival on par with Cannes and Sundance as arbiter of short films

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A scene from Israeli short "Aya", Israel's entry in the short film category for the Academy Awards (photo credit: Courtesy 'Aya')
A scene from Israeli short "Aya", Israel's entry in the short film category for the Academy Awards (photo credit: Courtesy 'Aya')

“Aya,” a delicately intimate short, directed and produced by three graduates of Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, is one of five international shorts nominated for the 2015 Oscars.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the announcement Thursday, several days after it announced its plans to consider award-winning short films from the upcoming 2015 Jerusalem Film Festival for its Short Film awards category.

The announcements are an additional acknowledgement of Israel’s movie industry success, and the rising stature of short films in general, despite their brevity.

“Aya” was written by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnun with Tom Shoval, also a Sam Spiegel graduate. Hillel Rosenman, another Sam Spiegel graduate, produced the film with actor Yael Abecassis, his partner in Cassis Films.

As with many good short films, “Aya” packs meaning and emotional impact into its 39 minutes of storytelling

Speaking to the Hebrew-language website Walla, Abecassis expressed her excitement over the film’s success. “This is the first film my company produced. Michal and Oded are wonderful directors and they have a bright future ahead of them. They tell stories that can only be dreamed of,” she said. “I’m so happy to be representing Israel at the Oscars.”

“Short film has become its own experience,” said Noa Regev, director of the Jerusalem Film Festival, and its host, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, the city’s celebrated arthouse theater. “It stands as its own contribution to film.”

“It allows the creation of another kind of film work,” she said. “It’s not just on the way” to a feature film.

It’s been a big week for Regev, the still-new director of the Cinematheque and Jerusalem Film Festival.

She was notified earlier in the week that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would officially recognize award-winning short films from the Jerusalem Film Festival, offering another outlet for Israeli filmmakers to garner international exposure and attention.

Makers of short films that earn prizes in the Van Leer Short Film competition will be able to submit their work for Academy consideration, with the hope of being included in the final list of nominees and possibly taking home a coveted gold Oscar statuette.

The new arrangement will begin in July 2015, when the Jerusalem Cinematheque holds its annual summer film festival.

In order for a short film to be eligible for an Academy Award nomination, it must win an award at one of the official festivals recognized by the Academy, including Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Sundance, Venice, Tribeca — and now, Jerusalem.

It also must be shown at a commercial movie theater in Los Angeles County for a minimum of three consecutive days, and needs to have won an award from the Academy’s Student Film Competition.

Being included in the world’s most celebrated film award ceremony is a major coup for the Jerusalem film festival.

“It shows that the Academy recognizes the strides Israeli film has made in the last ten years,” said Regev. “Not every country has its film festivals recognized. This puts ours on par with the world’s most important film festivals.”

Regev said the Cinematheque began working on the collaboration with the Academy prior to the last festival, after meeting with an Academy representative and working through a process of meeting the organization’s stringent criteria.

As for short films, the festival always has plenty on hand, said Regev.

Israeli filmmakers began making short films in the 1970s at many of the local film schools, said Regev, but it has become a phenomenon in the last decade. She likened it to writing short stories rather than novels.

There is no consensus as to the length of a short film, but the Academy defines it as an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including the credits, but should be longer than ten minutes.

Last year’s Oscar short film winners were “Mr. Hublot,” an animated short film from Luxembourg; “Helium,” a Danish live action short, and “The Lady in Number 6,” a documentary short film made in Canada.

Two of the Van Leer Short Film winners at the 2014 Jerusalem Film Festival were “The Vow,” about a mother-daughter relationship, and “April Fool’s,” a student film about a prank that goes wrong that was filmed on an iPhone.

As for “Aya,” the filmmakers are currently developing their first feature film which is based on their short film. The project was selected to take part in the prestigious Jerusalem International Film Lab, part of the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“Aya” will be Israel’s sole representative at the awards, after “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” Israel’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Film, did not make the final cut. “Gett” was nominated in the same category at the Golden Globes Awards, but lost to Russian film “Leviathan” as the winners were revealed during the ceremony held earlier this week.

The 87th Academy Awards will take place on February 22 in Los Angeles.

Daniel Bernstein contributed to this report.

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