Arab Films Currently Competing for the Oscars
By: Areeb Zuaiter/Arab America Contributing Writer
The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, have long honored international films. For the 93rd Academy Award ceremony, nine Arab film entries are chosen by their respective countries to compete for a nomination in the Best International Feature Film category. The Arab world has been present in this glamorous ceremony since 1956. That year, the Algerian film Z won the Oscar for the Best International Feature Film. Over the years, the number of Arab countries participating grew to reach one of its highest entries this year.
The Academy Awards this Year
Since 2004, the most prestigious ceremony would take place in February. If it weren’t for COVID 19, this would be the time of the year when millions of cinephiles tune in to watch the glamorous ceremony. This year the Academy Awards Nominations are expected to take place on Monday, March 15th while the ceremony is scheduled to take place on Sunday, April 25th.
Below is a list of the Arab films that are competing for a nomination in the Best International Feature Film category at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony.
Besides being the first to represent an Arab country in the prestigious Academy Awards, Algeria is the second most Arab country to have submitted films for the consideration of the Oscars. Since 2015, Algeria has been represented every year. This year marks Algeria’s twenty-second entry with the film ‘Héliopolis‘ by Djaâfar Gacem. However, the film did not make it to the final list of the Academy Awards.
‘Héliopolis’ tells a story that took place by the end of World War II. By that time, Algerians were demonstrating for their country’s independence from the French colonial power.
‘When We’re Born’ (Egypt)
Egypt started submitting films for the consideration of an Academy in 1958; only two years after Algeria. With thirty-five films to date, Egypt is the most Arab country to submit films for the Academy Awards. However, until today, no film from Egypt made it to the Academy’s red carpet with a nomination. Egypt’s entry this year is ‘When We’re Born‘ by Tamer Ezzat.
Guided with musical narration, the film knits the hopes of three characters at the center of the Egyptian lifestyle. There is the son who yearns to pursue a singing career against his father’s will. There is the romantic Christian woman who is in love with a Muslim man. And there is the newly-wed personal trainer who must compromise his principles for a chance to own a gym.
200 Metres’ (Jordan)
The film narrates the story of Mustafa and Salma who reside in two Palestinian villages that are only 200 meters, but a massive separation-wall, away. Against all odds, they do what they can to make their marriage work. One day, Mustafa receives a call from his wife with the news that his son is in the hospital due to a detrimental accident. With a recently expired ID, Mustafa’s once 200-meter journey becomes an odyssey.
‘Broken Keys’ (Lebanon)
Although Lebanon has been submitting films for consideration in the Academy Awards since 1998, it started making it to the Academy’s red carpet only four years ago. To date, the total number of films submitted by Lebanon to the Oscars is sixteen. Broken Keys by Jimmy Keyrouz is Lebanon’s entry for this year’s Academy Awards.
The film tells the story of a pianist who lives in a Middle-Eastern war-torn city. His dream to flee and build a career in Europe is expensive; which leads him to sell his piano. But things entangle when the piano gets destroyed by a leader of the Islamic State. Karim embarks on a difficult journey to repair the broken keys of his piano.
‘The Unknown Saint’ (Morocco)
Like Lebanon, this year will mark Morocco’s sixteenth submission to the Academy Awards. However, Morocco’s submissions never obtained a nomination. This year, Morocco has selected The Unknown Saint by Alaa Eddine Aljem as its official entry.
The film tells the story of a thief who digs a grave to hide the money he stole moments before his capture by the police. After spending years in prison, he returns to the spot where he buried his loot. That is when he finds out that the fake grave has become a shrine of an unknown saint, and a whole new village is thriving on it.
‘Gaza mon amour’ (Palestine)
Films started representing Palestine at the Academy Awards in 2003. To date, Palestine has thirteen submissions, two of which got a nomination. This year, Gaza mon amour by Arab Nasser and Tarzan Nasser was chosen to be Palestine’s official entry.
Gaza mon amour follows sixty-year-old fisherman Issa’s story. His secret love for Siham breaks his solitary routine. Working with her daughter Leila, Siham manages a dress store at the market. However, things change for Issa when a phallic statue of Apollo falls into his net. As a result, Issa builds enough confidence to approach Siham.
‘The Man Who Sold His Skin’ (Tunisia)
Tunisia started submitting films in consideration for the Academy Award’s Best International Film Category in 1995. Although this would mark its seventh entry, Tunisia has been submitting films on yearly basis since 2016. The Man Who Sold His Skin by Kaouther Ben Hania is Tunisia’s entry this year.
The film tells Sam Ali’s story as he flees to Lebanon to escape the Syrian war. Unable to get a visa to go to Europe and join his beloved Abeer, he stays in Lebanon with no legal status. While in Beirut, he meets and strikes a life-changing deal with a famous American Artist. He accepts to have a large Schengen visa tattooed on his back.
Scales (Saudi Arabia)
So far, Saudi Arabia had submitted 4 films for consideration of the Academy Award Best International Feature Film category. Saudi had started submitting films in 2013. For its 4th submission this year, Scales by Shahad Ameen is chosen to be Saudi’s entry.
Scales tells the story of a young girl, Hayat, who lives in a poor fishing village governed by a dark tradition. The tradition requires every family to sacrifice one daughter to the village’s sea creatures. Saved from this fate by her father, Hayat is considered a curse. After her mother gives birth to a baby boy, Hayat is left with two choices; either to accept the brutal custom of giving herself to the sea creatures or finding a way to escape.
‘You Will Die at Twenty’ (Sudan)
You Will Die at Twenty tells the story of Muzamil who; once born, the village’s holy man predicts that he will die at age 20. Muzamil’s father can’t stand the curse and leaves home. Sakina raises her son as a single, overly protective, mother.
Academy Awards Shortlist and Nominations
The preliminary short list for the Oscars is currently taking place. It was scheduled to happen from the 1st to the 5th of this month; i.e. the shortlist should be ready by Friday. The Oscars shortlist will be announced consequently, on Tuesday, February 9th. And finally, the Oscar nominations will be announced on 15 March 2021.
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Areeb Zuaiter is an Arab American filmmaker whose work focuses on art, identity, and social issues. She was nominated for Sony’s Outstanding thesis Award, her debut short won the Jury Prize at the European Film Festival and her latest documentary won multiple international awards. Alongside working on her debut feature documentary and her upcoming short narrative, Zuaiter works as an adjunct professor at American University.