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The small screening room of the Third Ear music store in Tel Aviv was chock full of cameramen. As the declaration of the winner of Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award drew near, the dark auditorium was suddenly immersed in flashes, much to the surprise of the audience, composed of the animators and crew of "Waltz with Bashir," who had wanted to watch the ceremony together.

If a few minutes earlier you could still catch a yawn or a nodding head among the crowd, everyone was at full alert now. The naming of each of the contending nominees brought gentle boos from the crowd. Only the title of the Israeli candidate was met with an uproar of approval that made two specially prepared champagne bottles rattle slightly where they stood. Director Ari Folman's gang crossed its fingers and stared fixedly at the screen. And then, suddenly, it was all over.

"Waltz with Bashir" was the leading favorite for the award, the most threatening contender being France's "The Class." But Hollywood gave the statuette to Japan's "Departures", and Bashir's backers stalked outside, disappointed and forlorn. Nitzan Roiy, in charge of composing and special effects, stayed in his chair.

"It's horrible," he said. "When we came here we were sure we had it in our hand. It's a shame."

He blamed the Academy's voting system for the loss. The system needs all voters to prove they have watched all five contenders at special members-only screenings.

"Bashir had won so many awards already and was seen by so many people," he said. "It's not like Liam Neeson will go to watch it again just so he can vote."

The crew members who went to Hollywood also felt let down.

"We were very confident before the ceremony," said Neta Holzer, one of the animators who joined the Israeli delegation to Los Angeles. "We didn't talk about winning, but we had a very good gut feeling. Everyone is disappointed, but we're getting used to it."

As she spoke, the leaders of the Bashir team - Folman, who wrote the script and produced the film, animation director Yoni Goodman, art director David Polonsky and producer Yael Nahlieli - emerged from the Kodak Theater, along with all the stars.

"We're disappointed but we'll get through it," Goodman said. "Despite the rumors that the Japanese were going to take it, we went into the theater feeling pretty good. We didn't win in the end, but it's ok."

He said that the drinks offered in the hall helped him and his comrades to remain upbeat despite the loss.

"The skeptics lost, David, optimism won!", Goodman, the resident optimist of the crew, called out to Polonsky, who'd been teasing him. "So we didn't get the Oscar, true, but the film got so far compared to where it started that it doesn't mean much now. We'll all be better by tomorrow. Now let's go to the Council's party, and then, yalla, get started on another film."