Samuel Maoz’s “Foxtrot” swept the Ophir Awards — Israel’s version of the Academy Awards — on Tuesday night, taking home eight statues including best picture of the year. The film will now represent Israel in the race for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Earlier this month, “Foxtrot” earned the Silver Lion grand jury prize at the Venice Film Festival, and had been widely tipped to win at home long before the ceremony opened. The film also picked up trophies for best director, best actor, cinematography, editing, music, artistic design and soundtrack.
Israel’s Ophir Awards, held in the port city of Ashdod just before the country takes a communal pause to celebrate the Jewish New Year, is the annual holy of holies for the Israeli film industry, and its most anticipated gathering.
But most noticeable about Tuesday night’s audience was who was not present: Miri Regev, the nation’s firebrand culture minister, was publicly snubbed by Israel’s Academy of Film and Television this year and left off the invitation list. Regev, who has railed against “Foxtrot” over the past month, has been on the outs with the Israeli Academy since she staged a dramatic walkout at last year’s Ophir Awards during a performance that included poetry by Palestinian poet (and PLO member) Mahmoud Darwish.
Regev’s hard-right stance as culture minister has included calls to strip funding from films she deems critical of Israel, leading to accusations of censorship and a public outcry among Israeli artists, primarily those on the left, that freedom of artistic expression in the Jewish state is under attack.
“Foxtrot,” which follows two bereaved parents who learn their soldier son has been killed while guarding an anonymous Israeli checkpoint, has been hailed by critics as a graceful swan-dive into the psychology of Israeli grief. But Regev, who admits she has not viewed the film, has claimed that it defames the Israeli military.
“It’s outrageous that Israeli artists contribute to the incitement of the young generation against the most moral army in the world by spreading lies in the guise of art,” she said last week.
On Saturday, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, Regev did not mince words when vowing to overhaul the process by which Israeli directors receive government funding for their projects.
“The agreement on cinema [funding] expires next year, and I’m telling you now, what has been going on will not continue,” she said, adding that there would be a surprise for “anybody who thinks that we’ll allocate the budget to the same [local] film funds.”
Other big winners on Tuesday night included leading man du jour Lior Ashkenazi, who earned best actor for “Foxtrot”; Mouna Hawa as best supporting actress for “Not Here, Not There” (her win marking the second consecutive year that the trophy has gone to a Palestinian actress); and “Ben-Gurion: Epilogue,” a stirring look at Israel’s founding father, as best documentary film.