Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 1 December 2020

Oscars 2021: Which Arab films have officially been submitted?

Countries including Algeria, Palestine, Sudan and Jordan have already selected their official entries

From left, still from '200 Metres', 'Gaza Mon Amour' and 'You Will Die at 20'. Venice Film Festival / Film Clinic
From left, still from '200 Metres', 'Gaza Mon Amour' and 'You Will Die at 20'. Venice Film Festival / Film Clinic

Five Arab films have been officially submitted in the run for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards. The Oscars ceremony, which was originally scheduled for Sunday, February 28, 2021, will take place on Sunday, April 25, 2021, extending the date for Oscar-eligible films by two months. Here are the films listed so far:

1. '200 Metres' (Jordan)

Jordan on Wednesday announced its selection of Ameen Nayfeh’s debut feature film 200 Metres as its official submission for the Oscars. Written and directed by Nayfeh, the film had originally received a development grant from the Jordan Film Fund and was later part of the Rawi Screenwriters Lab in Jordan. The film tells the story of a Palestinian family whose life is torn apart by the separation wall.

Since its world premiere at Venice Days in September, 200 Metres has received numerous awards including the BNL People's Choice Award at Venice Days, Best Actor award for Ali Suliman at Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, four awards at El Gouna Film Festival: Cinema for Humanity Prize, Fipresci International Critics Prize, Best Actor award, EDA Award for Nayfeh, and Best Director award at the 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival.

"200 Metres tells the story of resilience and optimism in the face of man-made walls and barriers. Nayfeh handles every detail with beautiful understated nuance, humour and humanity. Rarely does a film succeed on every level like this, from Ali Suliman’s absorbing performance to every character he meets on the road. With its superb writing and direction, this film will endure the test of time to become one of the great Arabic classics,” said the selection committee, chaired by Jordanian director Amin Matalqa, in a statement.

This is Jordan's fourth film submission for the prestigious Academy Award. In 2015, Naji Abo Nowar's feature film Theeb was selected for nomination.

2. 'You Will Die at 20' (Sudan)

Earlier this week, Sudan made history when it announced its official nomination. Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala's award-winning film You Will Die at 20 became the first film to be submitted to the Oscars in the country's history. The film tells the story of 19-year-old Muzamil, who the village holy man predicts will die after his 20th birthday. You Will Die at 20 has already won a number of awards since it first premiered in 2019, including the Grand Prix du Jury at the Amiens International Film Festival, the Luigi De Laurentiis Award at the Venice Film Festival and the Golden Star at El Gouna Film Festival in 2019.

3. 'Gaza Mon Amour' (Palestine)

Directed by twin brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, Gaza Mon Amour will represent Palestine in the race for the Oscars. The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September and later went to the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival where it won the Netpac award.

The romance, which stars Hiam Abbass and Salim Daw, tells the story of 60-year-old fisherman Issa, who is in love with Siham, a dressmaker at his local market. As he musters up the courage to propose, Issa discovers an ancient Greek statue of Apollo in his fishing net, which he then hides at home, in a tale inspired by a real-life story in 2013. The discovery soon upends life as he knows it.

Gaza Mon Amour will be the 13th film to represent Palestine at the Oscars, with two films previously selected for nominations: 2005's Paradise Now and 2013's Omar, both by acclaimed director Hany Abu-Assad.

4. 'Heliopolis' (Algeria)

Directed by Djaffar Gacem, Heliopolis is an Algerian drama based on the real-life events of May 8, 1945 in the city of Guelma, Algeria (called Heliopolis in ancient times) where French colonial forces attacked thousands of Algerians on the same day that the Europeans celebrated the end of the Second World War. May 8 is considered a day of mourning in Algeria, when the country remembers the massacre of 45,000 Algerians at the hands of the French army. The film, which tells the story of one Algerian family in the midst of those events, had a press screening earlier this month in Algeria.

Algeria will enter the international feature race with Heliopolis, with the hopes that it would get what is its first entry since Costa-Gavras's Z in 1970, which was also the first Arab film to win an Oscar. Z was a French-Algerian production that was submitted by Algeria – nominated for four awards and winning two. Since then, Algeria has had four films selected for nominations, three of which are by Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb.

5. 'The Man Who Sold His Skin' (Tunisia)

Kaouther Ben Hania’s The Man Who Sold His Skin will represent Tunisia in the race to the Oscars. The film, which had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, won the Best Actor award for its Syrian-born newcomer Yahya Mahayni. It then had its Middle Eastern premiere at El Gouna Film Festival where it won the Best Arab Narrative Film award. Inspired by a real-life story, the film follows the story of a Syrian who, in order to try and reach Europe to be with the love of his life, accepts having his back tattooed by an artist. This isn’t Ben Hania’s first film to be submitted for the Oscars. In 2018, her film Beauty and the Dogs was submitted but not nominated.

5. 'Broken Keys' (Lebanon)

Lebanese director Jimmy Keyrouz's feature film Broken Keys has been officially selected as Lebanon's submission for the Oscars. The film was meant to premiere at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, which was cancelled due to the pandemic.

The film is based on a short by Keyrouz titled Nocturne in Black, which has won numerous awards including the Gold for Best Narrative at the Student Academy Awards in 2016, the Bafta Student Film Award for Live Action in 2017 and a student award at the Directors Guild of America. It even made the long list for Live Action Shorts for the 89th Academy Awards.

The film tells the story of Karim, a young pianist who tries to escape his persecuted Middle Eastern town where modern ways of living and music have been banned by an extremist group. Keyrouz also worked with Lebanese-French composer and Oscar winner Gabriel Yared (The English Patient) for the film's score. Throughout its history, Lebanon has had two films nominated for an Oscar – Ziad Doueiri's The Insult in 2017 and Nadine Labaki's Capernaum in 2018.

Updated: November 25, 2020 02:51 PM

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