Sunday, March 14, 2010

Update on Ajami

I started my post on the film Ajami the day before the Oscar ceremony and in my haste to get something in print I left out one aspect of why Zionists like Ajami that I had considered but failed to develop in the article. It will suffice for my purposes here to quote a a couple of excerpts from the Hollywood Jew blog of Danielle Berrin (March 8, 2010). In "For Israelis, both despair and delight at 'Ajami' Oscar loss," Berrin writes:
Mixed feelings about the already controversial film were intensified after "Ajami" co-director, Skandar Copti gave a polarizing interview to Israel's Channel 2 TV hours before the Oscar telecast. In the interview, he denounced his ties to the State of Israel.

"I am not the Israeli national team and I do not represent Israel," Copti said.

The fallout from Copti's remarks lingered throughout the evening and divided the mostly Arab-Israeli cast from the rest of the guests in attendance. The Israeli Consulate, who hosted the expensive party at X Bar in Century City, put their best face forward despite the awkward atmosphere, determined to celebrate Israel's growing inroads in Hollywood.

"Tomorrow no one will remember what [Copti] said," Consul General of Israel Jacob Dayan said confidently. "They'll remember that this is an Israeli movie and that it will help make Israel a little stronger by reinforcing the relationship between Israel and Hollywood." ...

Copti, who is a Christian Arab, co-directed the film with Yaron Shani, an Israeli Jew. But, according to Copti, the collaboration is not suggestive of any broader comity between the two groups. During his Channel 2 interview, Copti said the film is "technically" Israeli because it received state funding, but he denied its figurative connection to Israel.

"I cannot represent a country that does not represent me," he said.

Even though that statement angered the film's Israeli supporters – "Ajami" received approximately $500,000 of its budget from the Israel Film Fund and Copti is a graduate of Israel's Technion in Haifa – some felt the remark was affirming.

"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."

For Dayan, art that reflects a dynamic Israeli society and its status as a pluralistic democracy is an essential strength of statehood. But on the other hand, the fact that almost every Israeli film of note eventually gets usurped by politics is frustrating. ...

After "Ajami" lost to Argentina's "El secreto de sus ojos" (The Secret in their Eyes), those who were embittered by Copti's remarks quietly delighted in the loss, secretly slapping high five's and sending exultant text messages. But those associated with the film were visibly disappointed.

"So we lost again," Dayan said, mildly deflated. "But the fact is, this is our third time in a row in this category and every time we're there. This helps us better our connection with Hollywood and we have to be there again and again."

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