LOS ANGELES, Feb. 20 (JTA) — When the controversial film “Paradise Now” is introduced at the Oscar ceremony on March 5, the live and television audiences may wonder not just whether it will win, but exactly where it came from. In the listing by countries of the five nominees for foreign language film honors, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gives “Paradise Now’s” origin as “Palestine.” In various academy news releases, the designation has been “Palestinian Authority.” The final word isn’t in yet, but academy decision-makers are “leaning toward” the term “Palestinian Territories,” said John Pavlik, the academy’s director of communications. The alternatives reflect the geopolitical uncertainties and sensitivities of the Middle East, as well as the flexibility of academy rules. As in the Olympic Games, only internationally recognized countries are eligible to enter the foreign language film competition, but this year’s list of 58 entries includes such entities as Hong Kong, Puerto Rico and Taiwan, none of which have universal acceptance. On the basis of such inclusiveness, the academy two years ago accepted the film “Divine Intervention” as the entry of “Palestine.” The Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles has been caught up in the controversy about the film, which explores the motivations and doubts of two would-be suicide bombers assigned to blow up a Tel Aviv bus. Its director, Hany Abu-Assad, and the leading actors are Israeli Arabs. Yediot Achronot, the Israeli mass-circulation daily, published an article summarized in a paragraph below the headline: “Powerful Israelis and Jews in Hollywood exert pressures on American members of the academy in a bid to prevent ‘Paradise Now’ from winning Oscar. Meanwhile, Israeli diplomats get academy’s commitment not to present film as representing Palestinian state.” The story got more fanciful as it was picked by foreign media, such as the Turkish newspaper Zaman. It reported that two Israeli diplomats “have already been guaranteed by the academy that it will not show the Palestinian film at the Oscar ceremony,” apparently referring to brief clips used to introduce nominated movies. The original Israeli article identified the diplomats as the consul general, Ehud Danoch, and Gilad Millo, consul for media and public affairs. It also cited sources at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem who “condemned attempts to hinder ‘Paradise Now’s’ chances in the Oscars, saying these efforts may tarnish Israel’s international reputation as a state that advocates freedom of speech.” Millo denied the report. “We have had no contact or involvement with the academy on this film,” he said. “We are focused on more important matters.” Pavlik said no “communications” had been received from the Israeli Consulate or Jewish organizations regarding “Paradise Now.” However, Pavlik did not dismiss the possibility that interested individuals had passed on their views on the film to academy leaders and members in social settings, adding that clips of all foreign language nominees will be screened, including “Paradise Now.” American Jewish organizations, with few exceptions, have stayed away from the controversy. One reason may be that few persons, Jewish or otherwise, have actually seen the film. Furthermore — politics aside — the film is generally considered to be of high quality, has received excellent reviews and was crowned with a Golden Globe as best foreign film of the year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. According to a survey by the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, neither the Simon Wiesenthal Center nor the Anti-Defamation League, usually quick to react to any anti-Israel slights, have mounted any protests. The film and its director were warmly received at a sold-out audience of nearly 500 at the University of Judaism. However, there has been criticism by StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, as well as by the American Jewish Congress and the Republican Jewish Coalition. In addition, the Israel Project released an article by Yossi Zur, whose teenaged son Asaf was killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 2003, that crititiczed the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for giving the film a Golden Globe. One reason for the generally cautious approach by Jewish groups may be the lesson drawn from Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” suggested Jewish Journal reporter Marc Ballon. Conventional wisdom has it that the persistent attacks on the movie, particularly by the ADL, kept “Passion” in the headlines and contributed to its box-office success. One observer noted the additional irony that Israel’s official Oscar entry, “What a Wonderful Place,” presents a considerably worse picture of Israelis than does the Palestinian film. The Israeli entry did not receive a nomination.
Where did ‘Paradise Now’ come from?