Awards season can be an endless tiring round of Q&As and campaigning, but that’s nothing compared with what Mideast Oscar hopefuls must endure.
Mohamed Al Daradji, the helmer of Iraq’s official contender “Ahlaam,” was kidnapped twice by rival insurgents during lensing, while Lebanese helmer Philippe Aractingi saw many of the locations in his “Bosta” destroyed during the summer’s war with Israel.
“It’s a battle of existence for us. We’ve had enough of war. We want to show that the way forward is not through hate, but through reconciliation and joy,” Aractingi says.
While Oscar brings with it a promise of critical recognition and boosted box office, for many of this year’s Mideast entrants, it’s more important just to get their message heard across the East-West divide.
What’s more, following the surprise success nom earlier this year for Palestinian suicide bomber pic “Paradise Now,” filmmakers are increasingly media savvy, with each hiring Stateside PR firms to handle their campaigns. Human Film, the shingle behind “Ahlaam,” is working with L.A. firm PPMG to handle its campaign gratis.
“We really want to build a bridge of communication between East and West, and to open up the market for Arab pics on an international level as well as convince Hollywood that the Mideast talent is there for them to embark on co-productions,” says Mohammad El Talkawi, marketing director for Good News Group, the shingle behind Egypt’s official entrant “The Yacoubian Building.” Good News execs have hired out an L.A. theater for a week in December so the pic will be admissible in all Oscar categories, and so local auds get maximum opportunity to see “Yacoubian.”
In a particularly strong year for Mideast titles, some pics have already had an impact on Western government policy. Algeria’s “Days of Glory,” being repped Stateside by the Weinstein Co. has been a sensation on its release in Gaul.
Pic, which tells the story of soldiers from France’s North African colonies who helped liberate Gaul from Nazis during WWII, persuaded prexy Jacques Chirac to raise the pensions of war vets from France’s former colonies to the same as those of French vets.
For helmer Rachid Bouchareb, the pic is an attempt to redress history’s snub of roles played by Arabs and Muslims in fighting against fascism, a theme made all the more timely given world events today.
“Whenever I would watch the war films of Spielberg, Attenborough and Fuller, I would never see any Muslim soldiers. Why? I would hope that from now on, every Rememberance Day my film can be near to Spielberg and Attenborough on the TV. We have never seen our story told before,” Bouchareb says.
While the region is represented from Egypt and Algeria to Lebanon, Iraq, Morocco, Israel and Iran, one territory notably absent is Palestine, the scene of last year’s biggest foreign-language kerfuffle with “Paradise Now.”
Though that pic became the target of several hate campaigns over its subject matter, including calls from some quarters that its nom be revoked entirely, real reason behind lack of Palestinian submissions is the worsening economic situation there.
With the Palestinian Authority blocked from international aid following militant group Hamas’ surprise victory in elections in January, production coin is thin. Public officials have gone unpaid for months.
Interesting, too, is the spirit of camaraderie among these seeming rivals. While each of the Mideast contenders is desperate to see its pic’s name pulled from the envelope next February — execs at the Weinstein Co., for example, are giving “Days of Glory” a bigger push than they would have previously done at Miramax, while both “Yacoubian” and “Bosta” are facing PR bills topping six figures — a genuine desire to see the region represented on the biggest stage of all has overcome the sense of competition.
“Regardless of who gets the nomination, we’ll still feel happy for someone from the Mideast to get the nod. It would mean an acknowledgement that the Mideast can make good movies,” El Talkawi says.