No Room for Palestinian Film at the Oscars

In a snugly fitting mini, with her stilettos clanking a beat to the soaring music score, a young Palestinian woman sashays slowly past a checkpoint while the security-obsessed Israeli soldiers, their walkie-talkies emitting robotic voices, watch stupefied at this magnificent transgression.

Festering rage morphs into burlesque fantasy in Divine Intervention, a Palestinian feature film directed by Elia Suleiman that has won international acclaim for its wry examination of life under Israeli occupation.

Subtitled A Chronicle of Love and Pain, the film takes a look at the daily nightmares of Palestinian life in the region, where neighbors dump garbage in each other's yards, lovers are reduced to holding hands in cars parked in the twilight buffer zones at checkpoints, and balloons soar gloriously free over a land troubled by watchtowers, barbed wires and weaponry staring in every direction.

But there was no heavenly intercession for Divine Intervention this year at the gatepost of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the selection committee behind the Oscars.

During a conversation with the film's producer Humbert Balsan in October, Academy Executive Director Bruce Davis informed Balsan that the film was ineligible for consideration in next year's Best Foreign Language Film category because Divine Intervention emerges from a country not formally recognized by the United Nations.

It was a decree of cinematic statelessness that sparked a furor in the international film world, a controversy that raised troubling arguments about the politics of art, identity, nationhood, and the dogged bureaucratese surrounding the most coveted cinema awards in the world.

β€˜In the Service of Politics’

Shot in Israel and France by an international crew, Divine Intervention has been doing the rounds at international film festivals this year, picking up fans, promoters, distributors and an impressive array of awards including the prestigious jury prize at the 2002 Cannes film festival and the European Film Award.

So when word of its stymied Oscar aspirations spread β€” mostly on the Internet β€” many independent filmmakers and Palestinian rights activists launched a heated cyber protest, with action alerts calling on people to write protest letters to the Academy.

Enraged filmmakers from across the world denounced the move, saying that art had been "put in the service of politics" while producers noted that the Academy had, in the past, considered entries from territories the U.N. did not consider countries such as Wales, Puerto Rico, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Experts also noted that unlike Taiwan, which has no official recognition at the United Nations and is considered by Beijing to be a wayward province of the People's Republic of China, Palestine has had observer status at the United Nations, where it has had a Permanent Observer Mission since 1974. Palestine is currently recognized as a nation by more than 115 countries.

In a statement released earlier this month, Feda Abdelhadi Nasser from the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations expressed dismay over the decision. "It is truly regrettable that the Palestinian people, in addition to being denied the most basic of human rights under Israel's occupation, are being denied the opportunity to participate in competitions judging artistic and cultural expression," he said.

All on the Phone

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