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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Here are the Oscar contenders from the Middle East 

From Lebanon to Morocco and Tunisia to a Bosnian Arabic-language film, we look at the films the MENA region are nominating for the Academy Award race 

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki on the set of her Oscar contender 'Capharnaum'. Courtesy Nadine Labaki
Lebanese director Nadine Labaki on the set of her Oscar contender 'Capharnaum'. Courtesy Nadine Labaki

With Monday night’s Emmys already in the bag, the annual award season is underway, and while October 1 is the deadline for nominations for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, the nominations from the region are already flowing in.

Sadly, the Gulf states have so far not nominated a film – countries are responsible for making their own nominations, with the Oscar’s judges themselves cutting the longlist down to the final nominations in January.

The UAE became eligible to nominate for the first time last year following a three-year campaign spearheaded by the Dubai International Film Festival, however the 12-person UAE panel opted not to do so, despite strong support from cinephiles for Abdulla Al Kaabi's Only Men Go to The Grave. The jury members we’ve spoken to this year suggest that, since the pausing of DIFF, the panel has gone into stasis, and no film is likely to be nominated this year.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has previously nominated two films – 2013’s Wadjda and 2016’s Barakah Meets Barakah. This year, however, no Saudi features have been released, despite the Kingdom’s concerted push to establish itself as a movie hub following the reopening of cinemas, so again, no nomination here.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other films from around the Arab world that have been nominated for the award so far – we’ll update this list as new nominations are announced.

Here are the contenders so far...

Algeria: Until The End Of Time (Yasmine Chouikh)

Algeria remains the only Arab country to have won the foreign language Oscar with its very first submission, Costa Gavras’ Z in 1970. Admittedly, that film was a Greek political thriller in the French language, but producer Ahmed Rachedi was undeniably Algerian, and the record stands. Yasmine’s film sees an unexpected romance blossom between gravedigger Ali and Johar, a lady visiting her sister’s grave.

Bosnia: Never Leave Me (Aida Begic)

Admittedly, Bosnia is not exactly in the Middle East, but Begic's Arabic language film, following the fate of traumatised, orphaned Syrian refugees in Turkey, warrants mention for its language and its moving subject matter. Begic's previous study of children at war, 2012's Children of Sarajevo, won a special jury distinction in Cannes' Certain Regard.

Egypt: Yomeddine (Abu Bakr Shawky)

Shawky’s film took home the François Chalais prize at Cannes in May and focuses on an Egyptian leper and an orphan boy, who travel to the leper’s hometown in an attempt to find his family. This is Egypt’s 33rd foreign language submission, and would be their first nomination.

Iraq: The Journey (Mohamed Al-Daradji)

Set entirely around a Baghdad train station one night in December 2006, Al-Daradji’s film is a drama about a female suicide bomber, and premiered at Toronto in 2017. Al Daradji was previously submitted as Iraq’s entry for 2009’s Son Of Babylon. This film is Iraq’s ninth submission to the foreign language prize, and the country is yet to receive a nomination.

Lebanon: Capharnaum (Nadine Labaki)

Labaki’s powerful drama about a neglected child who sues his parents for giving him life picked up the Jury Prize at Cannes, as well as a 15-minute standing ovation, in May, and has to be a strong contender for Oscar nomination. This could be Lebanon’s second straight nomination, following Zaid Doueri’s Lebanese debut at the awards last year, The Insult. Can Labaki go one step further and win?

Morocco: Burnout (Nour Eddine Lakhmari)

Lakhmari’s film is a snapshot of several lives in Morocco’s largest city Casablanca. The film premiered in 2017 and has played several festivals, including in Dubai. This is Morocco’s 14th Oscar submission. Its best result to date was in 2012, when Roschdy Zem’s Omar Killed Me made the January shortlist.

Palestine: Ghost Hunting (Raed Andoni)

Andoni’s moving documentary sees him recreate traumatic experiences in an Israeli detention centre, with ex-prisoners reliving their incarceration and torture by Israeli occupiers – a kind of inverse The Art of Killing. It premiered at Berlin Film Festival in 2017. Palestine has two previous nominations in the category from ten submissions, for Paradise Now in 2006 and Omar in 2014.

Tunisia: Beauty And The Dogs (Kaouther Ben Hania)

Beauty and The Dogs centres on a student who, after being brutally raped by policemen, has to endure a labyrinth of bureaucracy and malevolence to achieve her basic human rights. Debutante Mariam Al Ferjani picked up Best Actress at this year’s Arab Cinema Centre Awards for a truly harrowing performance in a Kafkaesque tale of institutionalised misogyny. The film is Tunisia’s fifth Oscar submission, but the country is still waiting on its first nomination.

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Read more:

From Al-Amari Refugee Camp to the Toronto International Film Festival

Syrian cinema wins big at the 2018 Venice Film Festival

Saeed Al Batal on taking the painful footage of Damascus and Douma for ‘Still Recording’

'The Day I Lost My Shadow' will make history as the first Syrian film ever to screen in competition at Venice Film Festival

Palestinian director Sameh Zoabi: To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it

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