Oscar readies for Middle East entries

Foreign-language race hits deadline

Today is the deadline for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ foreign-language Oscar entries, and already there’s static about some of the selections.

An Indian court on Saturday called the selection process that named “Eklavya — The Royal Guard” as that country’s submission “prima facie biased,” in response to a complaint from the producer of a rival pic.

Israel’s entry, “The Band’s Visit,” is facing some sour notes at home as rivals say the dialogue is more than 50% in English, which would make the pic inadmissible under Academy guidelines.

Submissions must be in to AMPAS by 5 p.m. A committee will review all the entries and assess their eligibility; the list of submissions will be announced in mid-November. Acad rules simply state that a film must be “predominantly” in a language other than English.

The tussle over India’s selection came as producer Bhavna Talwar went to the Mumbai High Court to challenge the selection process.

She argued that her film “Dharm” was not selected because the 11-man jury appointed by the Film Federation of India included Sudhir Mishra and Jagdish Sharma, members well known to “Eklavya” producer-helmer Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It has since emerged that another juror was film editor Ranjit Bahadur, who put together DVD sections for “Eklavya.”

“We felt that since certain members of the jury were personally known to ‘Eklavya’s’ producer, this direct nexus could have led to a bias,” Talwar’s lawyer Vineet Naik said on Saturday. “Eklavya” won the selection over “Dharm” on a six-to-five final vote.

Chopra said he had no idea of the composition of the jury until after its selection had been made.

The court said that the FFI and other parties need to provide evidence by Oct. 10, well after the AMPAS deadline for submissions, when it will decide whether to hear Talwar’s petition.

Israel’s “Band’s Visit” automatically became the country’s entry in the foreign-language Oscar race after it won the Israeli Academy’s Ophir Prize for best film. Pic, from helmer Eran Kolirin, revolves around an Egyptian music band that gets stranded in an Israeli village.

Pic is receiving support from some powerful Israeli film execs, despite the possibility that it could be ruled ineligible as an Oscar contender.

“It’s not like the producers sat down and did this to make a bundle of money. Speaking English is a natural situation: It’s the only way we can talk with our neighbors in Egypt,” said Israeli film fund topper Katriel Schory. “The Israeli Film Academy voiced its decision, and it was an absolute landslide for ‘The Band’s Visit.’ I hope the Academy in America respects the choice the Israeli Academy has made.”

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