Image courtesy Cassis Films
(JTA) — The idea for “Aya” began with a daydream: What if you were waiting for someone at the airport and instead you picked up a total stranger? What then?
That wisp of a fantasy, dreamed up by Mihal Brezis many years ago while waiting with a friend at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has carried her and her partner, Oded Binnun, to an Oscar nomination for best short film.
“This film keeps surprising us with its journey,” Brezis, 37, told JTA in advance of the 87th Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday.
She was sitting in a cafe in Griffith Park here while Binnun, 39, her co-director and co-writer, was taking their son, Nuri, on a pony ride nearby.
“The most touching fact is that we get to travel this far with a film that is small and intimate,” Brezis said.
“Aya,” as it exists, was never even supposed to be made. Brezis and Binnun were working on a feature film when a French producer who had worked on their last film called and told them he had money to make another short film. They told him they had no short film ideas, but ultimately decided to distill part of their feature idea into the short that became “Aya.”
(JTA) — If Damian Szifron’s “Wild Tales” (“Relatos Salvajes” in Spanish) wins an Academy Award on February 22 — it was nominated last week for Best Foreign Film — it will be Argentina’s third Oscar and the first for a film directed by an Argentine Jew.
The film, which combines humor, suspense and violence, consists of six independent segments, many featuring Jewish characters and details taken from Szifron’s life. The final segment revolves around a Jewish wedding, complete with klezmer music.
The film screened in prominent festivals, included Cannes, and, even before getting the Oscar nomination, broke Argentine box-office records, with more than 3.5 million tickets sold. The movie will be screened at the upcoming Sundance festival and will be released in the United States on Feb. 20. Szifron’s film career started in 2003, with “El Fondo del Mar” (“The Bottom of the Sea”), which starred the Jewish Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler. Szifron’s second film, “Tiempo de Valientes” (“Time of the Courageous”) is about a Jewish psychologist, Mariano Silverstein.
Szifron, 39, had already established himself as a popular TV writer/director before entering the film world. His series, “Los Simuladores” (“The Pretenders”) in 2002 won the Argentine equivalent of the Emmy, the Martin Fierro award for Best TV Series. And broadcasters in Chile, Spain, Mexico and Russia bought the rights to make their own versions of it.
At this year’s Academy Awards, Israel’s blossoming film industry has two nominations for the Best Documentary Award. In this highly competitive category, Israel is dominating with “The Gatekeepers,” following former chiefs of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service operators, who give a tell-all expose of some of the most notorious operations in the West Bank and Gaza. “5 Broken Cameras,” released in the U.S. earlier this year by Kino-Lorber, follows a Palestinian man documenting the peaceful resistance of his Arab village in the West Bank (protesting illegal expansions of territories and land confiscation), and the not so peaceful reactions of the Israeli military.
Both films stylistically could not be more different. “The Gatekeepers” is made with ground breaking animated effects, while “5 Broken Cameras” is more of a gritty found-footage film, edited together to create a story from the guerilla images. But both films bring a critical perspective of Israel with hope to create change in the stalemate peace process and, more importantly, to change Israeli society’s unethical elements from within.
Last year, in a nearly empty screening room, I saw what became an Academy Award finalist in the documentary category, “5 Broken Cameras.” I then interviewed filmmaker Guy Davidi about his background and his work on the film for The Arty Semite.
Recently I had another email conversation with Davidi, discussing how he’s faring with his film in the limelight, the nature of his collaboration with his Palestinian co-director Emad Burnat, and whether he knew if his colleague (a novice in the trade) would pursue filmmaking in the future.
When asked his view of the other Israeli-produced film nominated for best documentary, “The Gatekeepers,” he was reluctant to say much, citing an Academy rule prohibiting him from commenting on a fellow nominee. He responded mainly about his experience as a nominee with his Palestinian partner, but began with the political impact of the other work:
”The Gatekeepers” has put an end to the claim that Ehud Barak conveyed that there is no Palestinian partner; for me [this] is the most important achievement of the film and [on] the political discourse in Israel.
Barbra Streisand will take the stage at this year’s Academy Awards on February 24, for the first time in 36 years. Streisand, 70, last performed in 1977 to sing the theme song for “A Star Is Born.” She also appeared at the 75th Academy Awards, in 2003, to present Eminem with the Best Original Song award for “Lose Yourself” and she announced Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010.
Streisand’s own Oscars include Best Actress for 1968’s “Funny Girl,” and Best Original Song for “A Star Is Born.” The Forward named Streisand to its Forward 50 list this past year on the heels of two sold-out shows at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Streisand also appeared in the recent film “The Guilt Trip,” starring as a Jewish mother opposite Seth Rogan.
We all know that the Oscars race has been going on for some time now, but with today’s announcement of the 2013 Academy Awards nominees, we can consider the contest official.
Two Israeli films are among the final five nominees for Best Documentary. The first, “5 Broken Cameras,” by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi, documents the first years of Burnat’s baby against the backdrop of villagers from Bil’in in the West Bank battling against Israel’s building of the security fence. The second, “The Gatekeepers,” was directed by Dror Moreh and features interviews with six former chiefs of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, who until this film had been secretive about their and their agency’s work.
Steve Spielberg’s “Lincoln” leads the Oscar race with a total of 12 nominations, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (by Tony Kushner) and Best Director for Spielberg himself.
Veteran actor Alan Arkin got a nod for his supporting role in Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” about the stealth rescue of a group of American embassy workers during the Iranian hostage crisis.
The inclusion of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” among the nominees for Best Picture must be hugely exciting for its young production team of Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald.
The 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony will take place February 24, and will be hosted by Seth MacFarlane, who was surprised to be nominated for Best Original Song. He wrote the song “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” for the comedy film “Ted.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
Three days before he won an Oscar for the soundtrack he composed for the movie “The Artist,” Ludovic Bource sat in his studio in Paris and adapted one of the film’s songs for the accordion — the first instrument he played as a child.
Speaking before the Oscar ceremony last Sunday, the 41-year-old composer said: “I don’t know what will happen on Sunday, and how all our lives will look afterward, so I’m trying to do as much work as possible before then.”
“I’m not nervous, but I’m very excited,” Bource added. “I don’t know whether I have a chance to win, but just being nominated is a great honor for me, just to be mentioned in the same breath as terrific composers like John Williams, Howard Shore, and Alberto Iglesias.” But after winning a Golden Globe and a BAFTA, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award, in the soundtrack category, and given the tremendous momentum of “The Artist,” Bource was all but a surefire winner.
Crossposted from Haaretz
“At this time many Iranians all over the world are watching us and I imagine them to be very happy,” Iranian director Asghar Farhadi said in his acceptance speech for his film, “A Separation,” winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film at Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony. “They are happy not just because of an important award or a film or a filmmaker, but because at the time when talk of war, intimidation and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture; a rich and ancient culture that has been under heavy dust of politics,” said Farhadi. “I proudly offer this honor to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
The makers of “Footnote,” the Israeli nominee which competed against “A Separation,” sat in the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood listening to the Iranian director’s speech. “It was pretty much expected,” said one of the film’s producers, David Mandil, after the ceremony. “The Iranian film won in Berlin, won the Golden Globe and the Independent Spirit, and already had a high profile, and therefore its win was fairly predictable. Still, for us, just getting to this point is a great accomplishment,” said the co-producer of “Footnote,” a saga about a father and son, who are both Talmudic scholars.
The French film “The Artist” was the big winner at this year’s Academy Awards, while the Israeli contender, “Footnote,” went home empty handed.
“The Artist,” by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, picked up both best picture and best director honors February 26 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
Check out all the best Oscar night photos.
The black and white movie about the transition from silent films to talkies also picked up the best actor award for Jean Dujardin, costume design for Mark Bridges and original score for composer Ludovic Bource. In total, the film won five of the 10 Oscars for which it was nominated.
Read The Shmooze’s dish on Oscars red carpet drama
Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” received the lions share of the evening’s technical awards, including cinematography, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.
The 2012 Oscar nominations, announced this morning by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, included nods for Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, and both Israeli and Polish films.
Allen continued his string of recent successes with three nominations for “Midnight in Paris,” which was shortlisted in the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay categories. The film already won the Golden Globe award for Best Screenplay, and has picked up critical plaudits and commercial success since its June release.
There are plenty of changes in the works for the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony now that both its producer and host have stepped down amid controversy.
Producer Brett Ratner (whose latest film, “Tower Heist,” is currently out in theaters) announced yesterday that he would step down from the Oscars following insensitive remarks he made about gay people and his own (heterosexual) sex life. In particular, he issued an apology related to his comment that “rehearsals are for fags.” In a letter to colleagues, he wrote:
‘Footnote’ director Joseph Cedar arrives at Cannes Film Festival in May. Courtesy of Getty Images.
After sitting out the Academy Awards in February, Israel is hoping for its fourth nomination in five years with “Footnote,” a drama that combines the worlds of academia and Talmudic study.
The film won top honors tonight at the Ophirs, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars, automatically becoming Israel’s submission in the foreign-language category at Hollywood’s Academy Awards. While Oscar nominations won’t be announced until January, “Footnote” can already be considered a front-runner, having been nominated for a Palme d’Or and taking home the best screenplay prize at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Actress Natalie Portman and writers David Seidler and Aaron Sorkin were among the winners at last night’s Academy Awards. Also, the Israeli documentary “Strangers No More” took home the prize for best short documentary.
“Zenga Zenga,” An Israel video lampooning Muammar Gaddafi, has gone viral.
A new biography argues for the continuing relevance of Amedeo Modigliani.
The National Post talks to Forward contributor Michael Kaminer about “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women.”
Crossposted from Haaretz
Israeli documentary “Precious Life” was shortlisted for the Best Documentary Film category in the 83rd Academy Awards, alongside 15 feature documentaries.
Director Shlomi Eldar’s moving film documents a saga involving a breathtaking race to save the life of a desperately ill Palestinian baby.
The baby’s militant mother, an Israeli doctor and Eldar, the Channel 10 Gaza correspondent, star in the documentary, which premiered at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July and has since been screened in documentary film festivals around the world.
“The Human Resources Manager” is an odd film. That it was recently announced as Israel’s entry into the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language category, after winning five Ophir Awards including Best Feature, says less about the movie itself than it does about the goodwill accrued by director Eran Riklis for more accomplished features such as “The Syrian Bride” and “Lemon Tree.” Unfortunately, “The Human Resources Manager” measures up to neither.
Based on A.B. Yehoshua’s novel “A Woman in Jerusalem,” the film attempts to craft a universal fable out of a very historically and culturally specific story, moving wildly through different tones and narrative modes. The movie initially presents itself as a white-knuckle corporate mystery piece, with the titular Human Resources Manager (Mark Ivanir) of Israel’s largest bakery chasing the identity of a former employee after she dies in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. Though her employment with the bakery had been long-terminated, a recent pay stub found on her body links her back to the company, leaving the Human Resources Manager with 24 hours to identify the woman and solve the puzzle of why she remained on the payroll.