Three Arabic films were nominated for Oscars in three separate categories: foreign language film, documentary feature and documentary short. The three recently produced Arabic films that were nominated deal with three Arab countries embroiled in political, social and daily tumult.
Palestinian Hani Abu Assad narrates, in the film "Omar," a story of love, betrayal, and collaboration with the enemy that involves a handful of emotions and personal interests that, for a thousand and one reasons, cannot be reconciled. In "The Square," Egyptian-American Jehane Noujaim carries a camera to Tahrir Square in Cairo, documenting the days of the spontaneous popular uprising against the dictator [Hosni Mubarak] before his collapse and following his decision to step down. It extends over a period of many months, reflecting the perilous ups and downs in both society as a whole and among ordinary people by carefully following the daily lives of six individuals (Ahmad Hassan, Khalid Abdallah, Magdy Ashur, Rajiyah Amran, Rami Issam and A'idah al-Kashif). "Karama Has No Walls" is a film directed by Yemeni-Scottish filmmaker Sara Ishaq who chose as the focus of her documentary effort the Friday of Karama [Dignity] of March 18, 2011, an event often considered "a turning point in the Yemeni Revolution." "Karama Has No Walls" is her second documentary, following "The Mulberry House," which took part in the Arab Muhr Contest for Documentary Films, a part of the 10th Dubai International Film Festival in December 2013.
One cannot overlook the significance of these films being nominated for the 86th Academy Awards, which will be held March 2. Despite being a purely American institution — with the exception of the "foreign" film category — the Oscars garner international support for both nominated and award-winning films. Moreover, the fact that Arab films have succeeded in being officially nominated for the Oscars means, among many other things, a sort of “American cinematic recognition” of the vitality of Arabic cinema and the strength of its dramatic, artistic and visual aesthetic.
It's true that the most important factor lies in the film itself, and in the extent to which it is a work of creativity, indicating as well a sensitivity and subtlety in its treatment of its subject material. Similarly, it's certainly true that the international choices are not always and entirely appropriate — indeed, according to many, the [committee] sometimes fails to select the best, most technically and aesthetically superior films. But to win an international prize like an Oscar, or even to be nominated, helps to boost the standing of these films and to promote their name recognition with the public, without replacing any critical analysis unique to this or that award-winning or award-nominated film. In other words, the film alone remains the most vital component, and its critical reception and analytic breakdown becomes the best "prize" it and its producers could win.
In addition, the decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood to select two Arab documentary films relevant to the contemporary Arab popular struggle was not a purely "cinematic" choice. On the contrary, the West has an obsession with this kind of artistic exploitation. "Omar" lies at the heart of the story of the historic conflict between the Palestinians and the Israeli occupation. It dives into the depths and complexities of the Palestinian social environment without losing sight of the realities of the conflict. And none of this, it should be said, entails losing sight of those considerations that are based upon the movie's strength in approaching the narrative and [its] details.
As for "The Square" — nominated for documentary feature— it represents a major addition to Arab documentary production. Its strength as a film lies in its ability to turn the camera into an eye that sees into a soul that senses all or some of what is hidden, and into a heart that beats with life as lived by many Egyptians in their spontaneous revolution against the dictator. And "Omar" (nominated for a foreign film Oscar) represents another triumph for its director, and another step forward on the visual level as well as the dramatic treatment and visual aesthetic sophistication in penetrating [subjects] both forbidden and concealed. As for "Karama Has No Walls" (nominated for an Oscar for best documentary short), it represents an artistic attempt to grapple with the realities of life on the rocks of a bloody confrontation between civilians seeking their legitimate rights and killers seeking to hold on to power and to protect their own criminal interests.
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