Palestinian film could get Oscar nomination

los angeles | The ripple effects of Middle East politics are spreading as far as Hollywood’s glamour-studded Oscar awards.

On Jan. 27, when the nominations for the Academy Awards are announced, moviemakers from 55 countries will be waiting most intently to learn the names of the five finalists in the category of best foreign-language films.

So there was some puzzlement when the “country” of Palestine appeared on this year’s list, represented by the film “Divine Intervention.”

A year ago, the same film was denied entry by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, leading Arab media to air heated charges of Zionist conspiracies. But this year the film was accepted for consideration.

“As a basic guideline, we try to be as inclusive as possible, to look for reasons to include, rather than exclude,” said producer Mark Johnson, chairman of the foreign language film selection committee. “In a perfectly ordered world, we would only accept entries from recognized countries. But in reality, we have now entries from Hong Kong, which is part of China, and from Taiwan, which is not recognized by the United Nations. In the past, we’ve included Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth.”

Johnson said he asked his 12-member executive committee to review the Palestinian case, and they voted unanimously to accept “Divine Intervention,” directed by Elia Suleiman, an Israeli Arab.

Israeli Arab films can be considered Palestinian when they are selected by the academy’s Palestinian selection committee.

The reason the same entry was rejected last year, Johnson said, was that entries can be submitted only by a country’s duly constituted body of actors, writers and directors.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and himself a winner of two Oscars for documentaries, said he would be troubled if the Palestinian entry were an exception to normal rules.

“However, if this represents only a liberal interpretation of the rules, I can see no objection,” he said.

Tom Tugend

JTA Los Angeles correspondent