2017 Ophir nominations announced

This year may well yield another nomination, since it’s been a strong year for Israeli films.

Samuel Maoz's ‘Foxtrot.’ (Courtesy) (photo credit: SAMUEL MAOZ)
Samuel Maoz's ‘Foxtrot.’ (Courtesy)
(photo credit: SAMUEL MAOZ)
The announcement on Wednesday of the nominations for the Ophir Awards, the prizes of the Israeli Academy for Film and Television (aka the Israeli Oscars), is a mix of the usual suspects and some upstarts, with a few surprises – both good and bad.
The Ophirs are more than just another award. Every country may nominate one film for consideration in the Oscar Foreign Language category, and in Israel, as in most countries, that film is the winner of the local movie awards. Last year, 82 countries submitted films for the five slots in this category, so it’s highly competitive. Israeli feature films have been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar 10 times, including four times in the past 10 years, but none have won.
This year may well yield another nomination, since it’s been a strong year for Israeli films, with some acclaimed directors releasing wonderful new work, as well as some gifted young filmmakers bursting onto the scene.
The biggest breakout by a newcomer this year was Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, which received 12 nominations, the second-highest total. It’s a stylish, entertaining drama about young Israeli Arab women living in a parallel hard-partying, bohemian world in the Tel Aviv/Jaffa area, while struggling with tradition and their parents’ expectations. The film, which is almost entirely in Arabic, is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Shaden Kanboura), Best Supporting Actress (Mouna Hawa), as well as awards for cinematography, score and other technical categories.
If Hamoud’s film receives the top award, it will be the second time an Israeli Arab has won. The first time was Scandar Copti, who co-directed Ajami with Yaron Shani in 2009, and that film was nominated for an Oscar. In Between won an award at Cannes this summer, as well as at festivals around the world. If it wins Best Picture, it will be interesting to witness the reaction of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who famously voiced a litany of complaints about the movie industry at last year’s Ophir broadcast, calling for more diversity among the honorees. I suspect Hamoud does not represent the kind of diversity Regev was seeking.
Two films that exemplify the strengths and weaknesses of the Israeli film industry received the most nods, at 13 each. It was no surprise that Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot was one of the films that led the nominations.
Foxtrot, which has not yet been released and will be shown next month at the Venice International Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, is the long-awaited follow-up to Maoz’s audacious 2009 debut film, Lebanon, which won the Golden Lion at Venice that year.
Foxtrot stars Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler as parents mourning the loss of their son, who has been killed in the army. Foxtrot received nominations that include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Ashkenazi) and Best Supporting Actress (Shira Haas, the young actress who recently appeared in the international film The Zookeeper’s Wife, as well as the Israeli series Shtisel).
But the second film that received 13 nominations, Savi Gabizon’s Longing, came as something as a shock. Longing is a mediocre, conventional drama about a man (Shai Avivi) who learns late in life that he fathered a son who recently died, and who tries to find a way to connect with his son’s memory. The movie is nominated for Best Picture and Gabizon got nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. The film also received nominations for Avivi for Best Actor, Assi Levy (who doesn’t have that big a part) for Best Actress, Neta Riskin for Best Supporting Actress (she is also nominated for Best Actress for her performance in Hidden) and Yoram Toledano for Best Supporting Actor. The actors were all good, but this film has no chance of getting an Oscar nomination. It’s simply a case of an established director being rewarded by his cronies.
The other two movies which are nominated for Best Picture are two similarly themed movies about teachers trying to make a difference in working-class schools, Matan Yair’s Scaffolding and Eliran Elya’s Doubtful.
As is so often the case, what didn’t get nominated is as notable as what did. Avi Nesher, one of Israel’s most acclaimed directors, released one of his finest films this year, Past Life, which was one of the biggest box-office hits and won critical acclaim locally and around the world. The movie received nominations for its lead actresses, Joy Rieger for Best Actress and Nelly Tagar for Best Supporting Actress, for its original score and in a few other technical categories. But it did not get a nod for Best Picture, Best Director or Best Screenplay. There’s no accounting for taste, but the fact that this veteran Israeli director has never been nominated for Best Director and that only one of his films (The Matchmaker) has been nominated for Best Movie is beyond bizarre.
The Academy has a history of nominating mediocre, forgettable movies by directors whose films barely make a ripple domestically or internationally, and then continually ignore Nesher. In the long run, this grudge discredits and damages the academy.
This was an outstanding year for documentaries. The nominees in the feature-length category are Muhi: Generally Temporary, directed by Rina Castelnuovo-Hollander and Tamir Elterman, about a boy from Gaza who is hospitalized in Israel; Ben Gurion, Epilogue, directed by Yariv Mozer, which features a rare interview with Israel’s founder; Dimona Twist, by Michal Aviad, about ladies who loved rock and roll in the Negev in the Sixties; Forever Pure, directed by Maya Zinshtein, about the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club; and The Ancestral Sin, directed by David Deri, a critical look at development towns.
The awards will be given in a ceremony on September 19.