'Tel Aviv on Fire' representing Luxembourg, not Israel, at the Oscars

Tel Aviv on Fire director Sameh Zoabi on the absurdity of his film representing Luxembourg at the Oscar

Kais Nashif (left) and Yaniv Biton (photo credit: PATRICIA IBANEZ)
Kais Nashif (left) and Yaniv Biton
(photo credit: PATRICIA IBANEZ)
Sameh Zoabi’s Tel Aviv on Fire, a film about a soap opera writer in Ramallah, will be vying for an Best International Feature Film Oscar (formerly called the Best Foreign Language Film) – but as the official selection of Luxembourg, not Israel.
The movie won an Ophir Award, the prize of the Israel Academy for Film and Television, for Best Screenplay on Sunday night, but not for Best Picture. The Best Picture winner automatically becomes Israel’s selection for consideration for a Best International Feature Oscar nod. That honor went to Yaron Zilberman’s Incitement, a movie about Yigal Amir, former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, and the political climate that led up to the killing.
It’s a truism that dramas, not comedies, tend to win the big awards – although Tel Aviv on Fire won the Venice Horizons Best Actor prize at the Venice International Film Festival in 2019 for its leading man, Kais Nashif. But in an unusual turn of events, Tel Aviv on Fire, will be submitted as Luxembourg’s official selection.
The film, which received funding from both Luxembourg and Israel, was mainly shot in that Luxembourg with a local crew – although the story takes place in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Zoabi, who is from Iksal, a village near Nazareth, was philosophical about this turn of events.
“I am very happy that culture and art has no boundaries or borders,” Zoabi told The Jerusalem Post. “To give the film a chance that it deserves and run for the Oscars is a great honor, and I feel thrilled and thankful for that. Luxembourg is an essential partner in making this film, artistically and logistically.”
The director, who is the son of a farmer and is now based in New York, acknowledged the oddness of a movie about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict representing Luxembourg, which is very much in keeping with the spirit of the film.
“It was great working there,” Zoabi said. “The whole thing was a funny idea – to create a feel and sentiment of Palestine in Luxembourg, but it worked.”
About 90 countries will submit their entries for consideration for an Oscar in this category. This number will be winnowed to a short list of nine films in December, and the final five nominees will be announced in mid-January.