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Producer Arthur Cohn, a six-time Oscar winner, has passionately defended the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for nominating the Palestinian movie Paradise Now for a best foreign film Oscar.
The film, which follows two Palestinian suicide bombers on a mission to blow up a bus in Tel Aviv, drew angry opposition both in Israel and the American Jewish community with critics charging that the movie "humanized" terrorists. The best picture prize was ultimately awarded to another film, South Africa's Tsotsi, at the March 7 Oscar ceremony.
Cohn expressed his feelings last week in a letter to Yossi Zur, whose 16-year-old son was killed in a bus bombing in Israel. Zur had launched a petition, eventually signed by more than 36,000 supporters, asking the Academy to revoke the nomination for Paradise Now.
Cohn agreed that the movie could provide "comfort and sympathy for murderers," and he described the petition as "certainly well intended." Still, he wrote, it was "misguided."
A Swiss citizen known for his strong support of Israel, Cohn praised the Academy for "never involv[ing] itself in questioning or rebuffing the contents of those films nominated for 'best foreign film.'" He went on to credit the Academy for rescuing his own films from obscurity and thereby bringing Holocaust and Jewish themes to worldwide attention.
In particular, the director cited his 1971 feature film, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, which chronicled the fate of an Italian-Jewish family under Mussolini and was turned down by 31 distributors before an Oscar turned it into an enduring international classic.
Cohn's 1999 documentary, One Day in September, earned a global audience after receiving an Academy Award for its examination of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Describing the Academy as "the most noble of institutions," Cohn's letter concluded that "to have the Academy censor films based on their content and message would only serve to weaken this institution, which has flourished on the principle of freedom of expression and a profound belief in the integrity of its members."