No less than four Arabic-language films have been nominated for one of this year’s coveted Academy Awards. We showcase the contenders in 2020, plus a couple of movies that didn’t make the cut.
Nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category, “The Cave” is a joint Syrian-Danish production directed by Syrian-born Feras Fayyad. It premiered in at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it was awarded the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries. The film follows the struggles of Syrian paediatrician, Dr. Amani Ballour, as she tends to patients in an underground hospital in Eastern Ghouta under siege. “The Cave comes after Fayyad’s 2017 documentary, “Last Men in Aleppo”, which covers the work of the White Helmets during the Assad regime’s bombardment of the city.
“For Sama, produced by Syrian journalist Waad Al-Kateab and British filmmaker Edward Watts has also been nominated for Best Documentary Feature, which consists of five titles. For Sama won the 2019 L'Œil d'or for best documentary at Cannes. The documentary, which has also been nominated for four BAFTAs, tells the story of Al-Kateab herself as she falls in love, gets married and she raises her daughter, Sama, all amid an Aleppo in conflict. She faces an impossible choice; to escape the city for the sake of Sama, or to stay and fight for the city she loves.
Two out of the five films nominated for the Best Live Action Short are in Arabic. One of which is “Brotherhood” (Ikhwène), a short film directed by Tunisian-Canadian filmmaker, Meryam Joobeur, who has described making the short as a way to reconnect with her roots. In the film, a Tunisian family who is left deeply unsettled when their oldest son, Malik, returns with a mysterious new wife. Joobeur explores the themes of faith, extremism, and the struggle to communicate between family members, and challenges stereotypes along the way.
Nefta Football Club
“Nefta Football Club”, directed by French filmmaker Yves Piat, is also a contender in the Best Live Action Short Film category. Hilarity ensues when two football-mad brothers run into a headphone-wearing donkey carrying bags of white powder in the far south of Tunisia. The boys decide to take the powder back to their village, while two men search the desert for their lost property.
And those who didn’t make the cut
Another Syrian-based entry, this time directed by US director Brandt Andersen, “Refugee” explores the relationship between Aleppo-based paediatric surgeon, Amira, and her daughter, Rasha, caught amid the devastation of war-torn Syria. Amira, played by Lebanon-born actor Yasmine Al Massri, was once caught up in saving the lives of other children and now is forced to forge a new bond with Rasha as events push them to flee their homeland forever.
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (if You’re a Girl)
An honourable mention must go to Learning to “Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”, directed by Carol Dysinger), which was shortlisted in the Documentary Short Category. Shot in Afghanistan, the film highlights the work of the non-profit Skateistan, which was founded in 2007 in Kabul to teach Afghans how to skate. Young girls take centre stage as the film explores their journey from skateboarding novices to nollie-ing pros, and perhaps more importantly the life skills and confidence that they develop along the way.