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Albanian Oscar choice sparks ‘Blood’ feud

Helmer Bujar Alimani makes official protest

MOSCOW — A decision to select American director Joshua Marston’s “Forgiveness of Blood” as Albania’s Oscar submission has sparked a formal protest from the director of one of the local films that failed to make the cut.

Bujar Alimani, whose film “Amnesty” was one of three other contenders, is urging the Oscar selection committee from the Albanian National Center of Cinematography to disqualify Marston’s film on the grounds that it is a majority U.S. production.

In a letter to the committee, Alimani wrote: ” ‘Forgiveness of Blood’ doesn’t fulfil all the necessary requirements by the Academy since its director and co-writer are American, and other key creative components like cinematographer, music composer and editor are American citizens as well.”

There were three other Albanian films that met the committee’s own selection criteria, Alimani said.

“I strongly protest this decision since clearly the facts of mine and Joshua’s production credits have been ignored and falsified by the deciding committee,” he alleges.

“I ask that you disqualify ‘Forgiveness of Blood’ from consideration in your nomination and that you instruct the committee in Albania to meet again and make its decision based on the criteria set by your academy. ”

There was no immediate response from the selection committee, which had made clear the reasons for its choice when the decision was published.

The committee, made up of film industry professionals, Teodor Laco, Esat Musliu, Bujar Lako, Durim Neziri and Agron Tufa, stated that the film was Albanian language, one of the screenwriters, Andamion Murataj, was Albanian, as was the entire cast, the co-producer Lissus Media is Albanian, and most of the crew, and the film was shot entirely on location in Albania.

They added: “The film has been well received by the audience and critics alike for the original and fresh approach to an issue still relevant to our society.”

The decision has sparked a media storm in the tiny Balkans state that lies to the north of Greece and has a barren, Adriatic coastline left largely undeveloped two decades after the collapse of Enver Hoxha’s paranoid and secretive pro-Chinese communist regime.

Writing in Tirana newspaper Shekulli, journalist Elsa Demo commented: “(There is) a suspicion that the true decision-makers are the ones who come with an inferiority complex and a contempt for the creative people of this country.”

The decision betrayed “the idea that a foreign director can better represent Albania,” Demo said.

“That somehow ‘The Forgiveness of Blood’ gives the only real chance for this country to step up to the highest level of competition on the final night of the Oscars.”

Kujtim Cashku, rector of Tirana’s Marubi film school, told Variety: “The film has been realized in Albania and had a great success.

“Instead of dealing with the exotic subject of Albanian blood feuds — the ancient system of revenge known as kanun — it deals with love and human relations, and how Albanians digest rules of law that clash with the rules of kanun.”

Earlier this year, Marston’s film won the Berlinale Silver Bear for best script.

Marston told Variety: “The Albanian selection committee, the national film center and the Minister of Culture submitted the film saying, ‘This film represents Albania; it feels Albanian; it tells a truly Albanian story; and it was made by Albanian hands.’ It was their choice. And I feel grateful and honored by their decision.

“The most satisfying reaction to the film, without a doubt, has been that Albanian audiences look at the movie, and say it looks and feels like their reality, that it shows a truth to Albania they haven’t seen on screen before.”

Marston added that because of the tiny size of the Albanian film industry, key crew positions from d.p. down are filled by professionals from outside the country.

“It’s just not possible to judge the Albanian-ness of the film from the six key crew positions the Academy asks about on its entry form. I think the Academy understands that Albania represents a special case,” he added.

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