Friday, August 17, 2018

FOREIGN OSCAR PREDICTIONS- Africa and the Middle East

Here are the 26 submissions from Africa and the Middle East. Most of these countries don't submit regularly, but last year a record 14 (eight from Africa and six from the Middle East) entered films, including first-time entrants from Mozambique, Senegal and Syria. 

1.  Algeria- “The Blessed” Last year, it was expected that Cannes drama “Until the Birds Return” would represent Algeria if it got a domestic release. It didn’t, so it’s the unofficial frontrunner this year. However, it has strong competition from two new female-helmed films, “The Blessed” and “Until the End of Time”. “The Blessed” won Best Actress at the 2017 Venice Film Festival for its story of a middle-class couple torn between their desire to live in their own country, and the mounting political violence causing many of their friends and family to flee to France. It appears somehow less controversial than the politically tinged “Until the Birds Return” (which may also get dinged for competing at  the Jerusalem Film Festival). “Until the End of Time” is a gentle drama about an elderly widow and widower who discover they have feelings for one another. Those are the most likely choices but you can’t completely count out shepherd documentary “Of Sheep and Men” or patriotic drama “The Seven Ramparts of the Citadel”, set in the 1950’s amid the war for independence from France. It’s a close race and a strong year for Algeria. I predict “The Blessed” wins the nom, followed by “End of Time”, “Birds”, and “Seven Ramparts”. For an interesting article on the growing local film industry see here.

2.  Burkina Faso- “Wallay” Although Burkina Faso considers itself the home base of African arthouse cinema, they haven’t entered a film since 1989. If they wanted to enter a film this year, they could send “Wallay” (Berlin 2017), about a 13-year old raised in France who is sent to live with relatives in rural Burkina Faso. It got a domestic release in December 2017 and is directed by a European director who has a production company in Burkina Faso. 

3.  Cameroon- “Minga and the Broken Spoon” Cameroon submitted a film once in 1980. This year, they’re quite proud of a brand-new 2-D animated film based on a local folktale- “Minga et la cuillère cassée” (Minga and the Broken Spoon) though it’s unlikely they’ll send it in. Cameroon’s most famous director- Jean-Pierre Bekolo- also has a new film out but it’s mostly in English.

4.  Chad- “A Season in France” Chad has sent two films by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the country’s only international director of note. Haroun also served as Chad's Minister of Youth and Culture, until he was fired in February. This year, Haroun made his first movie in France. “A Season in France”, about the life of an illegal immigrant from the Central African Republic, is not really a Chadian film and it probably never screened at home in, Chad will presumably sit out this year. 

5.  Congo-Kinshasa- “Maki’La” Congo sent a film once in 1997 but never again, not even sending arthouse darling “Viva Riva” when that was eligible a few years ago. The Congolese did have two films at Berlin- fiction feature “Maki’La” (Forum) and documentary “Kinshasa Makombo”, about political activists. With a bitter election campaign being waged this fall, the documentary would be a non-starter, but I’d love to see them send “Maki’La”, a gritty drama about a married 19-year old girl trying to make ends meet on the mean streets of Kinshasa.

6.  Cote d’Ivoire- “"Le pouvoir de la femme” The Ivory Coast returned to the Oscars in 2015 after a 40-year absence but that hasn't spurred them to regularly send in films. For the sake of completion, I’ll predict melodrama “"Le pouvoir de la femme" about a housekeeper who decides to destroy the marriages of the wealthier families she works for. But they won’t send it.

7.  Egypt- “Diamond Dust” Most people are predicting “Yomeddine” a quirky little indie about a recently cured Christian leper who goes on a journey across Egypt. It was the first Egyptian movie ever selected for the Main Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, and it would make an excellent choice. However, I don’t think it will be released in Egypt before the October 1 deadline. Instead, I think Egypt will select “Diamond Dust”, a long-awaited thriller by the director of “The Yacoubian Building”, about a young pharmacist who becomes embroiled in solving a series of murders. A few other options: Historical action movie “Karmouz War”, set in 1952, hasn’t gotten great reviews but has been a sizeable hit. If they want to go more arthouse, they have “Photocopy”, a gentle drama about a retired old man who finds new meaning in his life or “Cactus Flower”, about three resilient women who suddenly find themselves homeless. “Photocopy” in particular could do very well with the elderly folks on the Foreign Film committee. “Talq Senaee”, by the brothers who made “Clash”, is a comedy-drama about Egyptians trying to get a visa to have a baby born in the U.S. My predictions: “Diamond Dust”, followed by “Photocopy” and “Talq Senaee”. But expect “Yomeddine” to get this if it’s released.

8.  Ethiopia- “Enkopa” Ethiopia sent two great films in 2014 and 2015 but they’ve taken the past two years off. The local film industry is doing well, but the movies are mostly aimed at entertaining domestic audiences. The only feature at the Addis Ababa Film Festival this year was a human trafficking drama called “Enkopa”, about a woman trying to illegally emigrate to Canada via a particularly dangerous route via Sudan. If they send anything, I think that’s likely to be their pick.

9.  Iran- "No Date, No Signature"

10.  Iraq- “The Journey” Last year, Iraq richly deserved an Oscar nod for “The Dark Wind”, which was certainly one of the most impressive of the 65 Oscar submissions I saw last year. Similar to Belgium, Iraq has two independent film industries- an emergent scene in the smaller, peaceful Kurdish north, and a struggling one in the larger, dangerous Arab south. Over the years, Iraq has selected six films from the Kurdish region and two from the Arab region. Both Arabic films were directed by Mohamad al-Daradji. I think this year’s Iraqi nominee will come down to a race between al-Daradji’s latest film (“The Journey”) and the winner of Best Kurdish Film (“A Dream Before Dying”) at the 2017 Duhok Film Festival (open to Kurdish films of all nations), where it was the only representative of Iraqi Kurdistan. A lot of this will probably come down to who’s represented on the committee. If it’s Kurdish-dominated, count on “A Dream Before Dying”, a film about Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and their families fighting ISIS terrorists. If the committee is more evenly divided, I think this will be a year where they give the  nod to the beleaguered Arab half of the country. I think “The Journey”, a drama about a female suicide bomber and a cast of characters at a train station she intends to attack, is likely to be their choice. Two foreign co-productions are unlikely but possible: Iraqi Kurdish/Belgian “Zagros” (Dubai) and Iraqi Arab/Lebanese“Yara” (Locarno).

11.  Israel- “The Cakemaker” Israel has made things a little easier by announcing their shortlist of five films fairly early. As always, the Best Picture at the Ophir Awards will be sent to the Oscars to represent Israel. This year's five nominees are “The Cakemaker”, “The Fig Tree”, “Flawless”, “Laces” and “Noble Savage”. Only “The Cakemaker” has been released (where it has had a successful arthouse run here in the USA) while “The Fig Tree” will premiere this month in Locarno. The other three are complete mysteries. Interestingly enough, two out the three involve kidney transplants. So, “Flawless”, a drama about a bunch of teenaged girls who try to sell their kidneys for prom dresses, just sounds too out there, so I predict it will come fifth. “The Fig Tree” is set in Ethiopia rather than Israel, and it’s the only one without a Best Director nomination, so I predict it will come in fourth. Out of the remaining three, “The Cakemaker”, sounds like the best bet for Hollywood. It’s about a gay German baker who moves to Israel to secretly get to know the wife of his deceased gay lover. Some say that Israeli Academy voters take into account the film’s chances in the USA, and the film has already proven its appeal to US audiences, including a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. If the LGBT themes turn off Israeli voters (and I don’t think the film is “very” gay), then expect this to go to “Laces”, a drama about a mentally disabled adult trying to donate his kidney to his estranged father. This sounds like it could be done very well....or very badly. Dysfunctional family drama “Noble Savage” should come third, but I’d emphasize that four out of five have not been seen by anyone yet so it's a wide-open race.

12.  Jordan- “17” Bizarrely enough, filmmaking in Jordan seems to have ground to a screeching halt as soon as they got nominated for an Oscar. “Theeb” made the Final Five in 2015/2016 but the Jordanian Film Commission website notes that the last Jordanian movie to be filmed in the country was the 2016 film “Blessed Benefit” (which was banned by the government). Despite all my best efforts, I can’t find a single fiction feature that has been released or that is awaiting release, although the writer/producer of “Theeb” has a new film in pre-production called “The Alleys”. Jordan has also been completely absent from all the Arab-themed film festivals. A few years ago, they were making a few movies each year, so not sure what is going on. For the sake of completion, I’ll guess women’s football documentary “17”.

13.  Kenya- “Supa Modo” Kenya has sent films twice before, both made by One Fine Day studios, a Kenyan production company founded by German director Tom Tykwer. This year, Kenyan censors have banned the country's most high-profile film (lesbian love story “Rafiki”, which played in Cannes) in a decision that the Kenya Film Commission called “ridiculous”. So, it makes sense that they would choose the latest flick from One Fine Day, namely “Supa Modo” a tearjerker about a little Kenyan girl who returns to her home village after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The village works together to make her wish of becoming a superhero come true.

14.  Kuwait- “Swarm of Doves” Kuwait submitted two films in the 1970s and then stopped. This year, they have several eligible films and could conceivably return to the race with “Swarm of Doves”, which was able to secure screenings at several major Middle Eastern festivals, including Cairo and Fajr. That’s a rare feat for a Kuwaiti film. “Swarm of Doves” is a patriotic film about a group of Kuwaitis under siege during the Iraqi invasion. The film's nationalist credentials and the creation of Oscar selection committees in nearby Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen may coax them back to the competition.

15.  Lebanon- “Capernaum” Winner of the Cannes Jury Prize, “Capernaum” will certainly represent Lebanon and may even net them their second Oscar nomination in a row. The film focuses on the plight of impoverished, mostly undocumented children in Beirut’s worst slums. Reviews have been very positive, though a bit more divisive than last year’s Oscar nominee “The Insult”. Actress/director Nadine Labaki is best known for her comedic work and has represented Lebanon twice before for charming comedies, "Where Do We Go Now?" and "Caramel". Without “Capernaum”, family dramas “Heaven Without People” (Jury Prize in Dubai) and “Yara” (Locarno) would have been strong contenders. If, for some strange reason, “Capernaum” doesn’t get a domestic release by September 30, “Heaven Without People”- a drama about family tensions that come to the fore during a large Easter dinner- will be the runner-up.

16.  Mauritania- “Returning Without a Grave” Mauritania got a well-deserved Oscar nomination for their first and only submission, “Timbuktu” four years ago. There hasn’t been a Mauritanian film made since and they’ll probably wait until Abderrahmane Sissako makes another movie to enter again. The only film I know about is 52-minute documentary short “Retour sans cimetiere”, about the struggle of black Mauritanians to use a cemetery reserved for the lighter-skinned Moors.

17.  Morocco-“Volubilis” “Volubilis” premiered at Venice Days last year and went on to win Best Moroccan Film at the national awards at the Tangier Film Festival this past spring, beating many of this year's other contenders plus last year’s submission, the middling “Razzia”. Directed by Faouzi Bensaidi (who was selected in 2012 for the grim “Death for for Sale"), "Volubilis" is the story of a newly married couple who find their life turned upside down when the husband has a violent incident at work. I had high expectations for multi-story drama “Burnout”, by Noureddine Lakhmari (“Casanegra”) who was selected in 2009, but it has gotten middling reviews and didn’t win anything in Tangier. Two films from last year- the farcical “Headbang Lullaby” (Berlin 2017) and rural drama “Sweat Rain” (the Best Picture winner at Tangier 2017) are also eligible this year due to release dates. I predict “Volubilis” gets a local release by September 30 (it hasn’t yet) and represents the Kingdom, followed by “Sweat Rain”, “Burnout” and “Headbang Lullaby”, with  documentary “A House in the Fields” rounding out the Top Five.

18.  Mozambique- “Our Madness” Mozambique was an unexpected new addition to the Oscar race last year and I heard their film was actually really good. If they wish to continue submitting regularly, their best bet this year would be “Our Madness”, which played in Berlin’s Forum Section. It’s a dreamlike B&W film in the Tswa language (which I admit I’ve never heard of) about a woman in a psychiatric hospital. It’s directed by Angola-born Portuguese director João Viana and would make a good choice.

19.  Palestine- “The Reports of Sarah and Saleem” It’s an interesting two-way race between the forbidden romance of “The Reports on Sarah and Saleem” and the upcoming “Screwdriver”, which will debut soon at Venice Days. I give “Sarah and Saleem” the edge only because it’s already been released to enthusiastic reviews. This story of an affair between a married Jewish woman and a married Palestinian man in the West Bank has picked up Best Picture awards from Seattle and Durban, and the Audience Award in Rotterdam. It’s supposed to be very good. “Screwdriver”, about a political prisoner released from an Israeli prison, has the pedigree of a Class-A festival and a subject matter that’s probably of greater interest to the Palestinian Academy. But I’m not sure it will be released in time. Dark horses: documentaries “Ghost Hunting” (Best Doc, Berlin 2017) and “Naila and the Uprising”.

20.  Saudi Arabia- “The Great Muse” Saudi Arabia re-opened cinemas this year for the first time in decades (the first film premiere was “Black Panther”), making it easier for local films to qualify. Previously, they had to awkwardly secure a special release at a foreign cultural center or oil compound. This year, they will probably send “The Great Muse” about a high-school graduate juggling social and family pressures to decide his future. This should resonate a lot in Saudi Arabia whose past two submissions have focused on the restlessness of the country’s youth.

21.  Senegal- “Wulu” Senegal entered the competition for the first time last year and came incredibly close to a nomination; they made the Final Nine out of 92 movies. However, that hasn’t yet translated into a large number of good Senegalese films. I haven’t heard of any new films made this year, although perhaps they could arrange a qualifying release for crime drama “Wulu”- a Mali/France/Senegal co-production that got special screenings last year. It’s about a smart, young drug dealer and is the only recent Senegalese film of note that I know of.

22.  South Africa- “Number 37” South African producers took a gamble and really screwed up last year. In what was already a competitive year, the producers of four critical darlings decided to schedule an Oscar qualifying release in September 2017 in the hopes of being selected to represent South Africa. That worked out very well for “The Wound”, which made the 9-film shortlist. But it was a foolish mistake for musical “Asinamali”,  road movie “Vaya” (which would have charmed the large committee) and especially thriller “Five Fingers for Marseilles” (Toronto 2017), which probably would have found it very easy to be selected this year.  I have a feeling one or more of these films will try and make a second go of it, but according to the rules they aren’t eligible. Most of South Africa’s other high-profile films (including Darrell Roodt’ horror film “Lullaby”, drama “Farewell Ella Bella” and Durban Best South African Film winner “High Fantasy”) are wholly or mostly in English. Thus, most of South Africa's eligible options are films made by the white Afrikaner community, but the South African Academy has only selected one of those films (“Skoonheid”) since the end of apartheid. For that reason, I think the front-runner is “Number 37” (SxSW), a Hitchcockian thriller with shades of “Rear Window”. It’s gotten good reviews, the South African Academy likes urban dramas, and it’s set amidst the Afrikaans-speaking Coloured community. Thanks to its slot at Cannes, “The Harvesters” (Cannes), a family drama set in the Afrikaner heartland, is likely to come second. Three other possibilities: (1)- “The Tokoloshe” is a supernatural drama in Zulu that opened the Durban Film Festival. It opens in December 2018 but could arrange a qualifying release; (2)- “Ellen: The Story of Ellen Pakies”, a “based-on-a-true story” drama/tragedy about a mother unable to deal with her drug addict son; and  (3)-“Wonderlus”, a romantic comedy-drama in Afrikaans. 

23.  Syria- “The Day I Lost My Shadow” Another country wracked by civil war, Syria was a surprise addition to last year’s Foreign Oscar list, with pro-opposition documentary “Little Gandhi”. I’ve never heard how the film managed to get an Oscar-qualifying screening at home….that will prove to be the major obstacle to Syria continuing to submit films in this category. Despite the civil war, Syria has no less than five films on the film festival circuit this year- “My Favorite Fabric” (Cannes), “The Day I Lost My Shadow” (Venice), “The Bees Way” (Cairo), “The Taste of Cement” (Sarajevo ’17) and “Rain of Homs”, which has gotten quite a lot of play, including in Fajr. Sexual feminist frankness and middling reviews will probably exclude “Fabric”, while the pro-regime slant of “Rain of Homs” means the film won’t fly with the Syrian selection committee in exile. That means “The Day I Lost My Shadow”, a harrowing film about a woman attempting to make a short but potentially deadly trip outside her home to obtain heating supplies, will rep Syria if they can get a domestic release in the middle of a war zone. That’s a pretty big “if”. I don’t expect them back.

24.  Tanzania- “Fatuma” Tanzania submitted a film just once in 2001 but they do have a local “Bongo” film industry and this year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival (the country’s largest) had five new local features. If they were to submit a film, the two front-runners are both directed by US-born Tanzania-based Jordan Riber. “The Envelope” (Baha'sha), about the aftereffects of a civil servant’s small act of corruption, opened ZIFF. “Fatuma”, about the struggles of a hard-working rural Tanzanian woman married to an abusive husband, won Best Film at ZIFF. So it would seem “Fatuma” is better.

25.  Tunisia- “Beauty and the Dogs” Tunisia has only sent movies twice before but they have long had one of North Africa’s most interesting film industries and they had a great cinematic year this year, with half a dozen potential submissions. The cosmopolitan Tunisians have the most liberal censors in the Arab world and can often show things that other Arab countries cannot (take a look at the poster for “Of Skin and Men”). The front-runner this year should be “Dear Son” (Mon cher enfant) which played at Cannes Director’s Fortnight. It's about two loving parents who are devoted to their 20-year old son, and who are shocked when he suddenly disappears. They later learn he has joined an Islamic militant group. Unfortunately for “Dear Son”, the film doesn’t have a Tunisian release date and isn’t scheduled to debut in France until late fall. So, although it’s the strongest film, I think it will have to wait until next year. That leaves the door wide open for “Beauty and the Dogs” from Cannes 2017. It was finally released in Tunisian cinemas in November. This #MeToo-themed film from the Arab world is about a woman seeking justice after she is sexually assaulted by the police. While the film had no problem with censors, I’m not sure they want this sort of film representing them at the Oscar level. I think it’ll be okay, but if not they’ll likely go with one of two films about global migration. “Benzine” (Dubai) is about the “left behind” family of a young man who left for Europe and never was heard from again. “Northern Wind” (Carthage) is about a Frenchman who loses his factory job, and about the Tunisian who gets his job in the outsourced factory in Tunisia. These are definitely topics that Tunisians will want Western audiences to know about. Rounding out the Top Five in a very strong year: Kafkaesque “bureaucracy” drama “Mustafa Z.” (Carthage).

26.  Yemen- “The Runaway” Yemen is in the midst of the world’s most brutal civil war, but they somehow qualified a bold film about child marriage two years ago. This year, they have another film on the same topic, although I doubt it will be able to screen in the midst of the conflict. “The Runaway” (Delhi), by Italian director Tommaso Cotronei, is about an escaped child bride who finds solace in a small village. 

Ghana and the United Arab Emirates promised to send their first-ever films last year, but neither one did. Ghana said they were disappointed with the lack of qualified submissions, while the Emirates said they wanted to send a really special film as their first entry. This year, they're both likely to debut. Ghana has the Akan-language "Akali", about a 14-year old girl who gets stranded in an impoverished slum in the capital and must find a way home to her village in the north. It has a lot of buzz in Ghana and was selected to open the country's "Black Nights Film Festival", the country's largest. The wealthy UAE is likely to go with "On Borrowed Time", a geriatric senior citizen comedy about four traditional, elderly Emirati men living in an assisted-living facility, and their adventures in ultra-modern Dubai after a distant relative leaves one of them a small fortune. I saw it here in Washington and it's a fun film to watch. Less likely: "The Road to Sunrise" from MALAWI, "L'orage africain" from BENIN, "The Wedding Ring" from NIGER, "Agwaetiti Obiuto" from NIGERIA, and "Ace of Hearts" from RWANDA. 


Ilia said...

Algeria - As far as I remember "The Blessed" is quite a good one (I've watched it almost a year ago, while it was at Venice through festivalscope). It manages to keep the balance between all the storylines. Unfortunately, I've missed "Until the Birds Return" at Jerusalem (I've both had a very little time and somehow overlooked the fact that it is an Algerian production).

Congo - I've watched it Berlinale, it was quite an experience to watch such a film at IMAX hall, but besides it "Maki’La" is a a mediocre and overdramatic film about "tough girl, who is looking for her boyfriend-husband and helping a young girl to get through the streets, while both of them gets involved with local mafia" (Serge Kanyinda from "War Witch" was the only actor, who had some cinematic experience before the shooting).

Egypt - What about "After the Battle" from 2012 or was it mostly French production? It seems that "Yomeddine" has got bad reviews? While "Photocopy" is too silly (I've watched it at local Arab festival).

Iran - "No Date, No Signature" would make an excellent submission. It well deserved its Best Director and Best Actor award at Venice Horizons competition last year. They have plenty other option, which they will probably ignore like smart and funny "Pig" from this year Berlinale, while I don't know the premiere status of "A Man of Integrity" and "Disappearance", though I highly doubt that they will choose any of them those, because the first one is too satirical, "A Man of Integrity" deals with corruption and "Disappearance" is thematically loaded (it deals with abortion).

Mozambique- “Our Madness” is a unique and sureal film.

Ilia said...

Israel - Yeah, and here we go again with a stupid situation when most of the nominated films have not been released yet (unlike most of the countries Ophir award doesn't require the release of the film prior to its nomination or taking part in awards season). The 2018 Ophir award season become one of the weakest in past decade (if not even the most one), because the older and influential members of the academy have managed to jeopardize the expected change the rule described above and in response some filmmakers decided not to submit their films for the consideration (among them Avi Nesher) or pull it out on early stage (like the creators of Karlovy Vary's "Redemption" and Locarno's/Jerusalem's "The -Dive"), but nevertheless they're expected to compete next year. Though I did manage to watch the four non-released films (sneaking into Academy screenings) and "Cakemaker" a year ago at Jerusalem film festival.
So "Cakemaker" is the only film that has played outside of Israel ("Fig Tree" didn't play at Locarno this year, but was part of its lab a few years ago), while the other either has been rejected from the festivals or didn't try to submit.

LGBT theme would not turn the voters off from voting for "Cakemaker" (though as far as I remember it does have gay sex scenes), but the fact that the film was already released may do. The old members of the academy strongly believe that the main award can be a factum of its box-office success (and without the award, its chances are lower) so they intend to choose the films that have not been released yet or released closer to the ceremony. The last time, when a film that was released a few months prior to the ceremony has won the main award was in 2011 with "Footnote". But "Cakemaker"'s success in both USA and Israel may make them change their mind and vote for the film. Personally, I didn't like it, but I intend to give it a 2nd chance next week.

A small correction about "Flawless". The girls in the film are selling their kidneys to get plastic operations and it also involves LGBT themes (any further information will be a spoiler). It's the most influential one out of the five because they have a big production company behind them and it can play a role in the final decision. The youth in the film is quite authentic, but I would say that the authors do not harden the characters life enough (in other words the consequences of their actions could be much worse).

While "Laces" seems to be the biggest surprise (prior to its beginning) of the season. Jacob Goldwasser is a veteran director so he also has his own voting base. The film seems to have very positive responses mainly for not being over dramatical. Actually (I would say that "the kidney donation" is a spoiler), the film is about a disabled adult, who has to move with his elderly father after his mother's death, whom he hasn't seen for many many years. I found it dull, but the majority thinks that it's sweet.

Not being nominated for Best Director award seems to make "Fig Tree"'s chances low, but it is my personal favorite and IMHO one of the best films I've seen this year so I cross my fingers for "Argo" case. It has an impressive production being filmed in Ethiopia. "Fig Tree" is about a Jewish girl, who during the local civil war (early 90's) tries to help her boyfriend to get a visa to Israel (and move there together with her family) so he wouldn't get enlisted to army/guerilla.

dzong2 said...

Thanks for the overview of the Israeli race! It's very interesting to hear how the local personalities affect the voting, and it's also great that you've managed to see all five films!

I saw "The Cakemaker" over the weekend here in Washington, DC and think this would be a strong film to represent Israel. But it's difficult to say without seeing the other four films.

Last year, "Foxtrot" was in my personal Top Five, and I was very disappointed to see it fail to be nominated. I would have preferred to see it replace "The Square".