Israeli film bizzers disappointed

LONDON — Israeli film industry insiders expressed disappointment after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences ruled “The Band’s Visit,” the nation’s submission in the foreign-language Oscar category, ineligible because a good portion of the film’s dialogue is in English.

AMPAS officials last week sent a letter to Marek Rosenbaum, president of the Israeli Film Academy, informing him that the dialogue issue rendered the movie ineligible for competition. Guidelines for the foreign-language Oscar race call for submissions to be “predominantly in a language other than English,” an Acad spokeswoman said.

The Academy asked its Israeli counterpart to submit a replacement film by Friday, though it was unclear over the weekend whether the Israeli Academy had done so or if AMPAS had given it more time to make the decision. The Acad plans to release the complete list of foreign Oscar submissions later this week.

The Israeli pic most likely to get the bid now is Joseph Cedar’s “Beaufort,” which came second in a poll taken at the Ophir Awards, the traditional determiner of Israel’s Oscar submission.

The Israeli Film Academy was seeking legal advice as to whether there are grounds for an appeal.

With opinions mixed over “Beaufort,” and a feeling of resentment toward it among some Israeli film execs who feel that that pic’s producers led the negative campaign against “The Band’s Visit,” a number of Israeli Academy members have mulled boycotting the Oscar race altogether. However, it’s not clear how many Academy members feel so strongly about the issue.

“It’s really a shame, especially after everything that happened with Abu Dhabi,” said Israeli Film Fund topper Katriel Schory, who put up coin for “The Band’s Visit.” This film “tried to (be a) bridge between cultures and show that broken English and music can bring people together. It speaks about the absurdity that two neighboring countries who have similar languages can only communicate in English. As far as we’re concerned, it is an Israeli film and should be looked at in the context of the region it comes from and its complex reality.”

“The Band’s Visit” was being considered for selection at Abu Dhabi’s inaugural Middle East Film Festival, unspooling Oct. 14-19, before Egypt’s Actors Union threatened to boycott the fest if the pic was selected. Although Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty almost 30 years ago, a large portion of Egyptian society and cultural community are against what they describe as “normalization” with Israel.

“I haven’t seen the film, but it’s not even about the film’s qualities,” said Egypt Actors Union topper Ashraf Zaki. “It’s because it’s Israeli. We’re against normalization, and if they had put the film in, we would have withdrawn all our support.”

Pic will also be blanked by the Cairo Film Festival despite “Band’s Visit” helmer Eran Kolirin’s oft-repeated admiration for Egyptian movies.

“The most important thing for us with the release of this film is that Arab audiences get to watch it and judge it with their own eyes,” said “Band’s Visit” producer Ehud Bleiberg. “In the end I don’t think people will be able to stop this film being seen. We will not stop until we’ve done everything possible.”

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more