Along with an endless list of “thank yous,” Oscar winners often use their acceptance speeches to recount the difficult road they took to make their films.
For the Lebanese director of “The Insult,” which has been nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film, the path was rockier than most.
Ziad Doueiri has been arrested, grilled by a military panel, had his film boycotted and risked seeing it banned in his home country.
The controversial filmmaker told Arab News that the Oscar nomination he received last week has vindicated him and his team.
“When I heard the news of the film’s nomination I was extremely happy for Lebanon and for the people who worked so hard with me to make this film a reality,” he said by phone from Paris.
Set in modern day Beirut, “The Insult” tells the story of how a relatively minor personal clash between a Christian and a Palestinian refugee spirals out of control to become a national scandal that reopens the wounds of Lebanon’s civil war.
The film has been the target of censors and campaigners in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region because of the director’s previous work in Israel.
The source of the controversy surrounds an earlier feature film “The Attack,” which Doueiri shot in Tel Aviv. Due to decades of hostility and Israeli military aggression toward Lebanon, Lebanese law forbids its citizens from traveling to Israel. The two countries are still technically in a state of war.
After a heated campaign, that film was banned in Lebanon and his new film is not being shown in the West Bank.
Doueiri, 54, who left Lebanon to study in the US in the 1980s and now lives between Paris and Beirut, said he had to fight tooth and nail just to get people to see “The Insult.”
In September, shortly before the premiere. the director was arrested after he landed in Beirut and questioned by a military court, but was not charged with any offense.
“We were at the edge of being banned in Lebanon and many of my opponents tried to pressure the Lebanese government not to nominate the film (for an Academy Award),” Doueiri said.
The film has also not yet been shown in Jordan. Mohammed Qtaishat, the head of the Jordan Media Commission, told Arab News that the film was approved with the need to edit a short scene.
“The law is very clear that we can’t approve any film or parts of it that can produce civil disturbance that threatens the fabric of society.”
Arab News has learned that the six minutes that the Media Commission wants to cut deals with Black September, the 1970 conflict in Jordan between Palestinian militants and the Jordanian military.
Doueiri has refused to have the film screened anywhere with any of its scenes deleted. He said he hopes the entire film can be shown in Palestine and Jordan and other countries.
“We are now in discussion about the distribution of the film also in Egypt and north Africa and hope to have it also shown in the Gulf region,” he said.
Kamel El-Basha, the lead actor in the film, said he hopes that a solution can be found so that the film can be seen and judged by people rather than held hostage by militants.
“There is so much exaggeration and taking positions without much facts that we are hurting each other for no good reason,” he told Arab News.
The actor, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, became the first Arab to win the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival last year. But he said he has mixed feelings about the Oscar nomination.
“To be honest, I am both happy and sad about this nomination. This is a good film and a nice story with implications further than the Arab world. It talks about the struggle between immigrants and natives, a major topic of discussion around the world today.”
However, El-Basha is sad that Palestinians have not seen the film. The movie was scheduled to be the high point of the Ramallah International Film Festival in October but was withdrawn because of pressure from a small group of campaigners.
“I am sad and pained because of the way politics is affecting art in our region,” El-Basha said.
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