Searching for Sugar Man, which tells the tale of the hunt for a mysterious music icon, took home the Oscar for best documentary Sunday night, ensuring that another year passed without an Israeli film winning one of the coveted golden statues.
Among the documentaries that came up short were The Gatekeepers, an Israeli documentary featuring a series of interviews with six former leaders of Israel's Shin Bet security service, and 5 Broken Cameras, an Israeli-Palestinian co-production that tells the story of a Palestinian village resisting the encroachment of a nearby Israeli settlement.
Directed by Dror Moreh, The Gatekeepers features the former security chiefs arguing that Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories is ultimately futile and self-defeating. The interviewees, men who were responsible for some of Israel's most daring and controversial operations, say that Israel must try to negotiate with the Palestinians and find a path to a peace settlement -- even if it means negotiating with terrorist groups.
"5 Broken Cameras" was co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi. A Palestinian farmer from the village of Bil'in, Burnat began collecting the footage that would become 5 Broken Cameras in 2005, after the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. Around that time, the nearby settlement of of Modi’in Illit was established, and Burnat found himself chronicling the skirmishes between the villagers protesting the settlement's blocking of land access and the Israeli soldiers brought in to protect it.
With financial help from Davidi and the Israeli government's film fund, Burnat turned his raw footage into a documentary.
No Israeli film has ever won an Academy Award, though several films by the American-born director Joseph Cedar have been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Cedar's Footnote, nominated last year, lost out to an Iranian film, A Separation.
This year, the category was won by the Austrian film Amour, which examines the marriage of an elderly French couple, tested when the wife suffers a stroke. Israel's nominee, Fill the Void, had been eliminated in the first cut.
Daniel Day-Lewis won his third Oscar for Best Actor, the first actor to do so, for his performance as US President Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln, a film which had been an early frontrunner in the Oscar race. The half-Jewish actor is the son of actress Jill Balcon, whose parents immigrated to Britain from Latvia and Poland.
The film’s other top nominees, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, went home empty handed.
Argo, which chronicles the rescue of six American hostages during the Iranian Revolution, wrapped up the best picture title. Grant Heslov, the picture’s co-producer with George Clooney and star Ben Affleck, accepted the golden statuette and film editor William Goldenberg did likewise in his category.
On Oscar night, in the absence of Billy Crystal and other Jewishly attuned hosts of previous years, first-time master of ceremonies Seth MacFarlane stayed away from the typical Jewish Hollywood jokes during the introductory monologue.
The show made up for this omission in the second part of the evening, when Ted, the X-rated stuffed teddy bear of the same titled movie, made an appearance. In a skit, Ted “revealed” that his birth name was Theodore Shapiro and he was actually born Jewish, which he figured would assure his acceptance into Hollywood’s ranks.
MacFarlane followed up later with a joke about Hitler, of all people, and a shtick involving the von Trapp family of “Sound of Music” fame and a black-uniformed SS man.
Meanwhile, Barbra Streisand delivered a soulful rendition of “The Way We Were” in a tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch.
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