'For Sama' and 'Refugee': Arab films listed in Oscar nominations shortlist

Six films from the region have been nominated in three Academy Awards categories

The award-winning documentary 'For Sama' has had multiple awards nominations this season. Courtesy Waad al-Kateab

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced the shortlisted films for nine of its 29 categories. The movies in consideration for Oscars in the documentary feature, documentary short subject, international feature film, makeup and hairstyling, music (original score), music (original song), animated short film, live action short film and visual effects categories were announced on Monday, December 16. Among the movies and songs nominated, are a number of works about, or from, the Mena region.

Although the International Feature Film category was notably missing Arab film titles, the Live Action Short Film, Documentary and Documentary Short Subject categories, all have regional contenders.

Vying for the Live Action Short Film Oscar are Refugee, Brotherhood and Nefta Football Club. Brandt Andersen's Refugee is about a Syrian doctor, who attempts to escape her war-ravaged homeland with her young daughter. Meryam Joobeur's Brotherhood tells the story of a family whose shaken by the return of their oldest son Malik who after a long journey comes home with a mysterious new wife. Nefta Football Club tells the story of two brothers in Tunisia who are playing football on a makeshift pitch, when they encounter a donkey wearing headphones, carrying dubious cargo. Meanwhile, there are two men looking for the missing mule in the North African desert terrain.

Also shortlisted for the Live Action Short Film award are The Christmas Gift, Little Hands, Miller & Son, The Neighbors' Window, Saria, A Sister and Sometimes, I Think about Dying. 

Watch 'Nefta Football Club' in its entirety here: 

Two Syrian films For Sama and The Cave have been given a nod in the Documentary Feature category. In The Cave, Oscar-nominated director Feras Fayyad follows the story of Dr Amani Ballour, a paediatrician who stayed in Eastern Ghouta to aid people in a makeshift underground hospital. Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts's devastating documentary For Sama, constructed using first-person footage by Kateab, was shot over five years in Aleppo. The film highlights and personalises the country's heartbreaking conflict and the "resilience and suffering of its people, to the screen with such immediacy and force that you stagger away at the end feeling drained and enraged, but also inspired".

At the beginning of December, For Sama picked up four awards at the British Independent Film Awards, including best British independent film. It also won the Best Director, Best Documentary, and Best Editing awards.

Also in the Oscars' Documentary Feature category is Advocate, American Factory, The Apollo, Apollo 11, Aquarela, The Biggest Little Farm, The Edge of Democracy, The Great Hack, Honeyland, Knock Down the House, Maiden, Midnight Family and One Child Nation. 

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl) has been nominated in the Documentary Short Subject category. The British-made, Dari language movie is the a story of a group of young Afghan girls who are learning to read, write and skateboard in Kabul.

The film won Best Short Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival 2019.

The category is completed by After Maria, Fire in Paradise, Ghosts of Sugar Land, In the Absence, Life Overtakes Me, The Nightcrawlers, St Louis Superman, Stay Close and Walk Run Cha-Cha.

There were seven Arab films vying for a place on the shortlist this year, The Perfect Candidate by Haifaa Al Mansour (Saudi Arabia); It Must Be Heaven by Elia Suleiman (Palestine); 1982 by Oulaid Mouaness (Lebanon); Poisonous Roses by Ahmad Fawzi Saleh (Egypt); Adam by Maryam Touzani (Morocco); Dear Son by Mohamed Ben Attia (Tunisia) and Papicha by Mounia Meddour (Algeria).