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It's official. The best picture winner at this year's Ophir Awards (Israel's version of the Academy Awards), The Band's Visit, has been disqualified from the Oscar race for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination. The problem? More than 50% of the film is in English, and not in one of Israel's primary languages, Hebrew or Arabic.
For the time being, it appears that Joseph Cedar's Beaufort, the film that earned the second highest number of votes at the Ophir Awards, will become Israel's official nominee. But Ilana Sharon at the Israel Academy of Film and Television tells The Jerusalem Post that Israel has not given up on its initial submission. According to Sharon, the disqualification has already been officially appealed. A response is not expected until late today. It's unlikely, however, that the Oscars will bend the rules. In the past two years, the US Academy has disqualified about nine films for having too much English dialogue.
The real question is why this situation came to pass at all. There are clear rules posted on the Oscar Web site that insist that nominated foreign language films appear "predominantly" in the primary language of the submitting country. The Band's Visit was in clear violation of this pre-requisite. Is it arrogance or sheer lack of organization that prevented Israel's Academy from slightly altering its film submission to meet the US Academy's requirements? The Jerusalem Post predicted the problem in September, so why has the Israeli Academy been caught unprepared?
The Israeli Academy has yet to give a definitive answer to that question, though members of the film community who prefer to remain anonymous have expressed displeasure with the way the entire affair has been handled. According to one film industry professional, the lack of preparedness on the part of the Israeli Academy is disappointing, but unsurprising.
Others, however, are pleased with the possible change in nomination. Although The Band's Visit, a fable-like story of an Egyptian police band that gets lost in the Negev and has to spend the night in a tiny development town, has won many awards and a great deal of critical acclaim, many believe Joseph Cedar's film has a better chance at winning an official spot as an Oscar nominee - and ultimately the best chance at winning Best Foreign Language Film. Cedar's film, which won the prestigious Silver Bear in at the Berlin Film Festival among other awards, is a searing tale about the last Israeli unit to leave Lebanon. Jerusalem Post film critic Hannah Brown speculates that voting members of the US Academy will more easily relate to the Israelis portrayed in a military drama than those in Kolirin's apolitical film.
No Israeli film has been nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 23 years, and many here feel, with justification, that due to the general excellence of both Beaufort and The Band's Visit, this will be the year that one breaks through.