The Nazareth-based filmmaker’s latest feature, Omar was named on the final list of five at yesterday’s Academy Awards nominations announcement in Los Angeles, following on from Paradise Now, which earned Abu Assad a nod in 2006.
Shot in both Israel and the West Bank, Omar follows the story of a young Palestinian baker – played with passion by rising star Adam Bakri – who must deal with issues of love, trust and betrayal while fighting Israeli occupation. It opened the Dubai International Film Festival in December, going on to win its biggest honour, the Best Film in the Muhr Arab feature competition, along with Best Director for Abu-Assad.
Speaking at the festival, Abu-Assad admitted he was doubtful Omar would follow Paradise Now’s footstep in making it to LA, claiming that this year his film faced far stiffer competition than before.
“This time we are up against Wadjda and the Chilean film Gloria,” he said. But both Gloria and Haifaa Al Mansour’s celebrated Saudi drama, Wadjda, controversially failed to make the cut for the Oscars.
Omar will now face Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium), The Great Beauty (Italy), The Hunt (Denmark) and The Missing Picture (Cambodia) for the coveted gold statuette in the Dolby Theatre.
Having picked up a Golden Globe earlier in the week, Paolo Sorrentino’s Felliniesque homage to Rome, The Great Beauty, is now arguably the favourite in the category
Whether it wins or not, Omar’s deserved accolade marks the first time Dubai will get its name attached as producer to an Oscar nomination, with the film partly financed by DIFF’s own Enjaaz fund.
“We have been privileged to open two editions of DIFF with Hany’s films and for such a remarkable film as Omar, which we helped support through our post-production funding programme Enjaaz, to open our 10th edition was an honour, and the perfect tribute to Arab cinema,” said DIFF’s managing director Shivani Pandya.
“It’s wonderful to see Hany Abu Assad and the Omar team getting the recognition they so truly deserve and we wish them all the best.”
Adding to the Middle East presence at the 86th Academy Awards, The Square became the first Egyptian film to get an Oscars nomination, being named in the documentary category. Having already won numerous international awards, Jehane Noujaim’s slick chronicling of Egypt’s recent history was already among the favourites, and had been praised by critics for offering the most comprehensive and well produced of the many documentaries to have come out since the 2011 revolution. But where the film truly excelled was in a conclusion that brought it up to date with the 2013 uprisings, with Noujaim having raced back to Tahrir Square last June (the first cut of The Square ended with Mohammed Morsi’s election).
“It’s a long time coming,” said Noujaim about the Middle East’s increasing recognition at the Academy Awards. “This region has incredible stories to tell. It has an incredibly rich culture. It’s about time that these stories entered the global stage in the way that they should.”