jewin' the fat


Win or Lose – It’s how you play the system

Another year, another conflated Oscars ceremony. Thanks to the ACT government, and their nifty Canberra Day Public holiday, I watched the Oscars broadcast with the same breathless excitement I watched Channel Nine stumble through Eddie Maguire’s homophobic ramblings to broadcast the Montreal Winter Olympics.

At least the Olympics highlight package, that is.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the Oscars are 8% bad jokes, 18% bad dresses, 30% drunk after party photos, and 40% politics. This year, my political favourites included The Hurt Locker‘s Katherine Bigalow getting even with her ex-husband James Cameron, Sandra Bullock proving that a bad dye-job and a southern drawl can make or break a career, and of course, Christoph Waltz’s ability to turn incorrect syntax into Oscar gold!

Israel has a proud history of quality filmmaking. Recent titles which have touched the hearts and minds of international audiences include Beaufort, Eyes Wide Open, Waltz with Bashir, Yossi & Jagger, The Bubble, Someone to Run With$9.99, and most  recently, the 2010 nominee for Best Foreign Feature Film Ajami.

Yaron Shani and Skandar Copti, Co-Directors of the Academy Award nominated film, 'Ajami'

Telling uniquely Israeli stories of the cultures, foods, rituals, languages, loves and lives of citizens of the State of Israel, it’s acclaimed offerings have been touted at film festivals and award ceremonies for decades.

And while none have achieved Oscar glory yet, Ajami was a firm favourite in the lead up to the big night.

Alack, in an interview with Israeli TV aired on the eve of the award ceremony, the film’s co-director, Skandar Copti effectively spat in the face of the government film fund which bankrolled his tale of the mean streets of Jaffa, and in the face of his Jewish-Israeli co-director Yaron Shani and stars (Arab-Muslim, Arab-Christian and Jewish alike), who were visibly disappointed that their hard work had not been rewarded. Though some sent celebratory text messages after the announcement that Argentinian nominee “El secreto de sus ojos” (The Secret in their Eyes) had taken out the category, many involved in the joint Arab-Jewish production saw betrayal in the remarks of Copti.

Israel Film Fund Director Katiel Schory was a little more considered in his approach. “Everything is okay, it’s perfectly alright,” he said. “[Copti] is entitled to his view. I’m very happy with the film and we stand behind it. In Israel, there are many narratives and this is one of those narratives.”

“The film represents Israel exactly,” said Israeli-American choreographer Barak Marshall. “It touches on almost all of the issues we face in Israeli society and it shows how broad the public debate is; that someone who is from Israel can negate his very connection to the state shows how wonderfully strong and alive our political culture is.”

The political fallout from Copti’s remarks clearly registered with the mostly Arab-Israeli cast, who were notably divided from the rest of the X Bar after-party guests, a shin dig hosted by the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles.

In Copti’s Channel 2 interview, he did say that though the film is “technically” Israeli, it did not represent him, and proffered “I cannot represent a country that does not represent me”.

So what is this “technicality”? The citizenship of the players, crew and cast alike? The location of filming – in the internationally recognised Israeli municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa? The languages spoken in the film (Hebrew and Arabic, two of Israel’s official national languages)? Or how about the people who paid, through the auspices of the Israel Film Fund, for part of the film’s production – the tax payers of Israel – Jew, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Baha’i, Bedouin and Armenian, amongst others?

It is not enough to say that because one’s government doesn’t represent one’s personal perspective, that one cannot represent one’s nation on an international stage, as Copti protests. It’s an unfortunate symptom of the open, democratic society that many perspectives and opinions are offered equal footing in public space, sure, and that sometimes our issues are marginalised, but guess what?

If there was one message Ajami offered the Academy and viewing public, it was an insight into the pluralist, multi-ethnic, unique character and chaos of Jaffa. It was about the individual’s fight to survive in a world that is non-homogenous, and often unfair.  And that in a free-market of individual agendas, sometimes, some one has to lose.

In this case, it was Copti. Technically, of course.

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