Israel's 'Ajami' Nominated for Best Foreign Film Oscar

Despite receiving the Sutherland Trophy for outstanding first feature at last year's London Film Festival, 'Ajami' faces stiff competition.

The Israeli film "Ajami" was named yesterday as one of the five pictures in the running for best foreign-language film at the 82nd Academy Awards in Hollywood on March 7. This is the third consecutive year in which an Israeli film has been nominated for the prestigious award.

"Ajami" - which depicts the brutal life involving drugs, violence and poverty in the eponymous Jewish-Arab neighborhood in Jaffa - was short-listed alongside nine foreign-language films including works from Argentina, Peru, France and Germany.

Israeli-Arab filmmaker Scandar Copti, who co-directed the movie along with Yaron Shani, said he was overjoyed by the nomination and that he hoped the film would help spread awareness about Israel's Arab minority.

"Maybe with the nomination, people will have a chance to understand what a Palestinian living in Israel is," Copti told the Associated Press in a phone interview from Dubai. "It will put us on the map."

Despite receiving the Sutherland Trophy for an outstanding first feature at last year's London Film Festival, "Ajami" faces stiff competition for the coveted Oscar.

While the foreign language category is notoriously difficult to predict, film critics believe the chances of "Ajami" bringing the Oscar to Israel are slim. "The White Ribbon," a German film directed by Michael Haneke (winner of last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and this year's Golden Globe for best foreign language film) and "A Prophet" by French filmmaker Jacques Audiard are considered favorites to take the award. The other contenders are "The Milk of Sorrow," by Peruvian director Claudia Llosa, and "El Secreto de Sus Ojos," by Argentine director Juan Jose Campanella.

Last year the Israeli film "Waltz with Bashir" was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar, but despite early buzz favoring the film, it lost to the Japanese movie "Departures." The previous year "Beaufort" was nominated as one of the top finalists, but also came up short.

Nevertheless, the "Ajami" cast and crew are overjoyed by the news.

"This film is the product of very hard work by a great many people," producer Moshe Danon said at a press conference in Jaffa following the announcement. "The Israel Film Fund was the only body that accompanied us from the start, and I think this nomination is the best proof of what creative freedom and freedom of expression, which it allowed us, can lead to. When a film like 'Ajami' achieves such status, it is first of all a source of pride for the country, but also a great victory for cinematic productions made here in Israel, with modest budgets and under difficult conditions."

The movie used mainly nonprofessional actors, who were taught in special workshops before filming began. Some of these actors are themselves residents of the Ajami neighborhood, and many of them came to yesterday's press conference.

"A thing like this you greet with joy and love," said Shahir Kabaha, who plays a major part in the film. "I feel wonderful. This is something you don't expect ... All we came for was acting lessons, and suddenly the film is so successful!"

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said a committee of several hundred members selected the films from 65 that qualified in the category.