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Special Interview Director Says Oscar for Israeli Film Would Open Door for Israel’s Movies

March 19, 1985
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The director of the Israeli film “Beyond The Walls,” believes that if the movie wins an “Oscar” this year the gates of the international film market will finally open for Israel.

“Winning the Academy Award as the best foreign film for 1985 would represent a major breakthrough for Israel’s film industry,” Uri Barbash, the 38-year-old Israeli director of “Beyond The Walls,” said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

“An Oscar would give the Israeli film industry instant international recognition. More movies will be made in Israel and there will be more coproductions of new films. Part of the problem of the Israeli film industry is not being recognized. An Oscar, I believe, would change the situation,” Barbash said.


Barbash was in New York on his way to Los Angeles where he will take part in the Academy Awards ceremony on March 25. This is the third time that an Israeli film is being considered for an Oscar as the best foreign film. The two other films, which did not win the coveted prize, were “Sala Shabati” and “I Love You Rosa.”

“Beyond The Walls,” which is competing with four other foreign films, is about the complex relationships between Jewish and Arab prisoners in a maximum security prison in Israel. The tension, violence and abuses of prison life are heightened by the political differences between Arabs and Jews. But the unfolding drama of racial and political tension turns abruptly into a story of cooperation and human dignity.

“We are very proud for what we achieved with this film,” Barbash said. “First of all this is the first film made in cooperation with Arab and Jews in Israel. The actors are Jews and Arabs, as well as other members of the crew. Real prisoners, criminals and politicals, some Jews and some Arabs, also participated. The film is basically about friendship, love and compassion in a cruel and harsh world of a maximum security prison. This is a film against racism and prejudice …”

The film so far has been a major success in Israel and won some major international prizes, including the International Critics Award of the Venice Festival 1984. It was also awarded best film in Israel for 1984.


According to Barbash, more than 600,000 Israelis have seen “Beyond The Walls,” a record number in a small country like Israel. It has been, however, a controversial movie raising charges by rightwingers, such as Rabbi Meir Kahane and his supporters, that the film is pro-PLO and anti-Israeli. Kahane and his followers have staged demonstrations in front of theaters where the film was shown. They also demonstrated in front of the Knesset when the film was screened there for the Israeli MKs and their guests.

A major breakthrough for the makers of “Beyond The Walls” came a few months ago when Warner Bros. decided to buy the rights for world-wide distribution of the film.

“This is the first time that Warner Bros. is distributing an Israeli film,” Barbash said with unconcealed pride. He said that Warner Bros. paid for the film about $400,000 which is “a tremendous amount for us, considering that the entire film cost $600,000 to produce.”

“Beyond The Walls” stars actors Arnon Zadok (Jewish) and Muhamad Bakri (Arab). It was produced by Rudy Cohen.

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