Israel's Oscar entry on Mideast conflict cleans up at local 'Academy Awards'

Bethlehem wins Ophir Awards for Best Film, Director, Supporting Actor and Screenplay.

Bethlehem wins at Ophir Awards 370 (photo credit: Israel Malovani)
Bethlehem wins at Ophir Awards 370
(photo credit: Israel Malovani)
It’s never too early to start thinking about the Oscars, and now that Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem has won the Ophir Award for Best Picture – at a ceremony held Saturday night in Haifa – people are asking whether that film will go on to become Israel’s fifth nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in the past six years.
The Ophirs are awarded by the Israel Academy for Film and Television each year. Every country is permitted to submit one nominee in this category, and each year between 60 and 70 countries submit a film, usually the winner of its most prestigious domestic film award. Then, a special committee of Academy Award voters winnows the 70 films down to a short list of nine, and then the final five nominees are chosen from that.
Bethlehem also took home the awards for Best Director (Adler) and Best Screenplay (Adler and Ali Waked).
Tsachi Halevy won Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a security officer in the film. It’s a triumph for Halevy, a novice actor who competed as a singer on Israel’s version of the television show, The Voice. The producers found him when they were looking for a young actor who was fluent in Arabic, and he seems to be on his way to becoming Israel’s newest heartthrob.
Bethlehem also got Ophir Awards for editing and casting. Bethlehem has won prizes at film festivals around the world, including the Venice Film Festival, and it won the top prize at the Haifa International Film Festival on Thursday.
It’s the kind of gritty, political drama about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that people expect from Israel, but it’s too early to say whether Bethlehem will make the cut this year.
None of Israel’s four recent nominees in this category – Joseph Cedar’s Beaufort (2008) and Footnote (2012), Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2009), and Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani’s Ajami (2010) – won the award.
While Bethlehem won the top prize at the Ophirs, several other films received important awards.
Sivan Levy won the Best Actress Award for her role as a lost and victimized high-school student in Johnathan Gurfinkel’s Six Acts. This film has stirred controversy for its extremely graphic and degrading sex scenes, and has still not been released to the general public. Levy said in her acceptance speech that she hoped her award would help the film, which is about a desperately lonely girl, reach a wider audience.
Makram Khoury took home the Best Actor trophy for Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor’s Magic Men, in which he plays a Greek-born Holocaust survivor. Khoury is one of Israel’s most respected actors, and was the youngest artist to receive the Israel Prize for his life’s work. Born in Jerusalem in 1945, Khoury is a Christian Palestinian who has made a career playing both Jews and Arabs. He portrayed the leader of the Palestinians in six-episode arc on the television series, The West Wing. In addition to Magic Men, Khoury stars in the upcoming Israeli film, Sweets.
Liora Rivlin received the Best Supporting Actress Award for her performance as a distraught mother in She’s Coming Home.
Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers, which was nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar this year, won the Ophir Award for Best Documentary. It features interviews with former heads of the Shin Bet. Through a quirk in the nominating process for the Ophir Awards, it didn’t receive a nomination last year even though it premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2012.
The short list for the Foreign Language Film Oscar will be announced in early January, and the final nominees will be revealed in a press conference in mid-January.