Paradise Now has been nominated “best foreign language film” for the 78th Annual Academy Awards — better known as the Oscars. The film was directed by Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad from a screenplay he cowrote with Bero Beyer, the film’s Dutch producer. Paradise Now chronicles the 48 hours before two best friends in Nablus are sent on a suicide mission to Israel. The New York Times said it “accomplishes the tricky feat of humanising the suicide bombers depicted in the film”. The paper dubbed the film “a taut, ingeniously calculated thriller”.
This is the first Academy Award nomination for Palestine. Three years ago, it was the first time a Palestinian film entered the Oscars race for best foreign film. Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention, acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the international critics’ prize, could have been a contender for the Oscars. At first Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Pictures refused to accept the film as a candidate for the best foreign-language film because the Academy believed that Palestine was not recognized as a nation.
Sensing a political motive for the film’s rejection, Palestinian voices pointed out that the Academy has accepted films in the past from territories like Puerto Rico, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Then the Academy said there were other reasons why Divine Intervention was not eligible. It stated that the film was put forward by its producers and not by a properly-constituted selection committee in its country of origin and it hadn’t been released in its home territory either. Later, the Academy decided to make “an exception”. Academy spokesman Jon Pavlik told entertainment magazine Variety: “The committee decided to treat Palestine as an exception in the same way we treat Hong Kong as an exception. It’s always the goal of the foreign-language film award executive committee to be as inclusive as possible.”
Paradise Now has already won many international awards to date, including the European Film Academy’s Best Screenplay award and the Berlin Festival’s “Blue Angel” award. With these prizes at earlier festivals, Paradise Now heads into the March 5 awards, potentially the first Palestinian film to claim the grand prize at the Oscars. Other nominees in the foreign language category are Don’t Tell (Italy), Merry Christmas (France), Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (Germany) and Tsotsi (South Africa). Earlier this month Paradise Now won a Golden Globe.
Nominees are chosen by specific branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such as directors, actors and writers. The full academy membership of about 5,800 is eligible to vote in all categories for the Oscars themselves. ABC will broadcast the Oscars live from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre, with Jon Stewart as host.