Israeli films fall short again at Oscars

In a scene from the Oscar-nominated documentary "5 Broken Cameras," co-director Emad Burnat is shown inspecting his cameras.  (Alegria Productions)

In a scene from the Oscar-nominated documentary “5 Broken Cameras,” co-director Emad Burnat is shown inspecting his cameras. (Alegria Productions)

LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Two Israeli documentaries in contention for the Oscar for best documentary failed to bring Israel its first coveted golden statue.

“The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” lost out to the Swedish-British production “Searching for Sugar Man” on Sunday night when the Academy Awards were handed out in Los Angeles.

Directed by Dror Moreh, “The Gatekeepers” features a series of interviews with six former leaders of Israel’s Shin Bet security service arguing that Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories is ultimately futile and self-defeating. They say that Israel must try to negotiate with the Palestinians and find a path to a peace settlement — even if it means negotiating with terrorist groups.

“5 Broken Cameras,” which was co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi, tells the story of a Palestinian village resisting the encroachment of a nearby Israeli settlement.

A Palestinian farmer from the village of Bil’in, Burnat began collecting the footage that would become the film in 2005 following the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. At about that time, the nearby settlement of Modi’in Illit was established, and Burnat found himself chronicling the skirmishes between the villagers protesting the settlement’s blocking of land access and the Israeli soldiers brought in to protect it. With financial help from Davidi and the Israeli government’s film fund, Burnat turned his raw footage into a documentary.

No Israeli film has ever won an Academy Award, though several films by the American-born director Joseph Cedar have been nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Israel’s nominee, “Fill the Void,” was eliminated this year in the first cut.

Daniel Day-Lewis became the first actor to win three Oscars for best actor with his performance as Abraham Lincoln in “Lincoln,” a film that had been an early front-runner in the Oscar race but lost out to “Argo” for best film. Day-Lewis is the son of Jewish actress Jill Balcon, whose parents immigrated to Britain from Latvia and Poland.

“Lincoln” director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner went home empty handed.

“Argo” chronicles the rescue of six American hostages during the Iranian Revolution. Grant Heslov, the picture’s co-producer with George Clooney and star Ben Affleck, accepted the golden statuette and film editor William Goldenberg did likewise in his category.

On Oscar night, in the absence of Billy Crystal and other Jewishly attuned hosts of previous years, first-time master of ceremonies Seth MacFarlane stayed away from the typical Jewish Hollywood jokes during the introductory monologue. But in the second part of the evening, Ted, the X-rated stuffed teddy bear of the same titled movie, “revealed” in a skit that his birth name was Theodore Shapiro and he actually was born Jewish, which he figured would assure his acceptance into Hollywood’s ranks.

MacFarlane followed up later with a joke about Hitler and shtick involving the von Trapp family of “Sound of Music” fame and a black-uniformed SS man.

Meanwhile, Barbra Streisand delivered a soulful rendition of “The Way We Were” in a tribute to the late composer Marvin Hamlisch.

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