Despite international acclaim and recognition, the California-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has disqualified the Italian submission for the 2005 Oscars due to complications that challenge the Academy’s foreign language regulations. The film, Private, was written and directed by Italian Saverio Costanzo, and produced by an Italian crew, in association with Italian-based Rai Cinema, Instituto de Luce, Offside and Cydonia. The drama, which has been hailed as a courageous and optimistic look at the Middle East situation and features a groundbreaking cooperative Palestinian and Israeli cast, was shot primarily in Arabic and Hebrew.
Private is an unflinching portrayal of a Palestinian family whose refusal to evacuate their home results in their cohabitation with Israeli troops who occupy the house. Its past honors include the Golden Leopard for Best Film at the Locarno Film Festival, the FIPRESCI Jury Prize at the San Francisco Film Festival, and the Italian David di Donatello Award for filmmaking. Leading man Mohammad Bakri also won lauds for Best Actor at Buenos Aires and Locarno film festivals. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Private received the required 4/5 majority vote among the 17-member selection committee set up by Italy’s motion picture association, ANICA.
However, the film has been rejected by the Academy based on technical difficulties resulting from the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film Award policy, which states “films involving subcultures that speak a non-English, non-official language may qualify if their subject matter concerns life in the submitting country.” Final determination of eligibility is left to the Academy’s discretion.
According to the Italian newsgroup, ANSA, Instituto Luce, the company which co-produced and distributed Private in Italy, said it had consulted Italian and American lawyers before putting the movie forward, and had been told it qualified. The director, who employed a hand-held verite-style filming technique in order to present a realistic and honest narrative, responded by saying “If the film had been made in Italian it would have been laughable.”
This is not the first time a film about Palestine has met resistance from the AMPAS selection committee; in 2002 Elia Suleiman’s award-winning film Divine Intervention was denied consideration, based on the claim that “The academy does not accept films from countries that are not recognized by the United Nations,” and “Palestine does not have membership in the United Nations.” However, AMPAS has not outlined this policy as part of its official regulations, and many felt the decision was politically motivated. Divine Intervention eventually did receive Oscar consideration in 2003, and Palestine has since submitted films in 2004 and 2005.
Although Private remains eligible for other categories for the 2005 Academy Awards, the news is disappointing to the film’s cast, crew, producers, and distributors, many of whom feel the current restrictions regarding foreign cinema eligibility for the Oscars are outdated and inappropriate in today’s cross-cultural society.
Private will have its US theatrical premiere on November 18th at the Angelika Film Center in New York City. It will open in Los Angeles on December 2nd, with a wider national release in early 2006.