No Room for Palestinian Film at the Oscars

In its defense, the Academy has maintained that Divine Intervention was never formally submitted for consideration.

"The film was never actually submitted to us," said John Pavlik, an AMPAS spokesman. "It was never anything beyond a couple of telephone conversations in which, from what Bruce [Davis] told me, he indicated the film will probably not be eligible because there are several problems that remain to be solved. But the Academy did not have to make a decision on whether or not to accept a film from Palestine — because nothing was submitted."

But Keith Icove, vice president of Avatar Films, the movie's U.S. distributor, maintained that it was the response from the Academy that prompted the producers not to submit the film for consideration.

"Yes, the film was not formally submitted, but underneath that decision was the fact that it was not recommended," said Icove. "It wasn't like we were told 'well, submit it and we'll see what happens.' We were emphatically told that a film from Palestine would not be eligible."

Ruling on the Rules

Among the many tricky issues surrounding the entry is an Academy rule that countries submitting entries for the best foreign film category should submit an entry after a selection is made "by one organization, jury or committee which should include artists and/or craftspeople from the field of motion pictures."

"We try to make sure that committees are made up of filmmakers, artists and craftspeople so we don't have a situation where ministers and bureaucrats are trying to make committee referrals," said Pavlik. "Of course, some countries are good about it, others aren't. But there has to be a committee that can decide and send a selection as the country's best picture of the year."

The rules also state that the film must first be released in the country of origin and publicly exhibited for at least seven consecutive days at a commercial theater.

Rights groups, however, charge that with the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli occupation since early this year and with curfews a daily facet of Palestinian life in the territories, cinemas in the area have been non-operational, if not destroyed.

But the Academy's special rules on the foreign film category makes no mention of any U.N. recognition of a country and by all accounts, the Academy has been accepting selections based on earlier precedents. "Taiwan and Hong Kong have been submitting entries since the '50s — they have a precedent that has been established," said Pavlik.

Taiwan was expelled from the United Nations in 1971, when the People's Republic of China was recognized as the island's legitimate authority. Hong Kong was a British territory for 100 years before it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

A Matter of Identity

But while Taiwan and Hong Kong have an established cinematic tradition, Palestinians in the territories have not managed to develop a robust film industry.

The reasons, according to Hussein Ibish of the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, are not hard to arrive at.

"I think it's very difficult to produce a thriving national film industry under a military occupation where there is no independent state as a reference," he said.

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