November 18, 2018

Tough Night at the Oscars for Jewish Nominees

Dan Cogan (L) and Bryan Fogel pose with their Oscars - REUTERS

Half a century ago, Bob Hope’s films were wildly popular but the comedian had never been nominated for an Academy Award. So when Hope served as host of the 1975 Oscar bash, he opened his monologue with “Welcome to the Academy Awards… or, as it’s known in my house – PASSOVER.” At Sunday’s 90th award ceremony, Jewish talent, once almost synonymous with Hollywood, could largely repeat Bob Hope’s punch line.

With only one exception and unless someone was hiding his or her tribal descent, no Jewish – or even half-Jewish – nominee got to clutch the golden statuette. In addition, a Jewish actor, tabbed as a likely winner, didn’t even make the nominee list, likely paying for his alleged sexual aggressiveness.

One day before the awards, the list of Jewish nominees, all with realistic chances to strike gold, included: for lead actors, Daniel Day-Lewis (in “Phantom Thread”) and Timothee Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), both with Jewish mothers. Also on the nomination list, but not called to the podium, was past repeat winner Hans Zimmer, who composed the score for “Dunkirk.” Benj Pasek, who last year won the Best Song Oscar for “La La Land,” failed to score in the same category for this year’s “This Is Me,” which, however, became the unofficial anthem of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The only consolation for tribal rooters was the win by Bryan Fogel for his documentary feature “Icarus,” which helped expose Russia’s widespread doping of its athletes. Fogel, a Denver native, previously developed, co-wrote and initially co-starred in “Jewtopia,” which became an immensely successful play and movie and was based on his book “Jewtopia: The Chosen Guide for the Chosen People.”

But on the negative side were some startling omissions of movies and their creators who failed to even make the list of five nominees in each category (nine for Best Picture nominees.) Foremost was the absence of Steven Spielberg, arguably Hollywood’s most respected personality. The director of “The Post,” a story of journalists facing down the U.S. government, was omitted from the list of five director nominees – although the film itself made the Best Picture nomination list.

James Franco, a perennial Jewish star, was tipped as a likely best actor winner for his role in “The Disaster Artist.” Franco won the Golden Globe for this role, but between that triumph and the deadline for Oscar nominations, he was accused by five women of sexual aggressiveness. Although he denied the charges, enough Oscar voters apparently decided to ignore his name.

Also raising eyebrows was the absence of Israel’s Gal Gadot from the Lead Actress list, although her performance as, and in, “Wonder Woman” was almost universally praised by critics.

In the Best Foreign-Language Film category, Israel’s entry “Foxtrot,” had made the initial list of nine nominees, but was eliminated when the list was cut to five candidates. The elimination of “Foxtrot” so annoyed Kenneth Turan, chief film critic for the Los Angeles Times, that, writing in his column, he told the judges that they  “should be ashamed of themselves.”

It is somewhat risky to deduce a national trend from an evening of Hollywood awards, but the conclusions from watching more than three hours of the Academy Awards seem fairly clear. One is that at a time of profound social change in the United States, fueled mainly by women and African-Americans, Jews are now generally considered as part of the white (and male) establishment. This development may be cause for considerable satisfaction by Jews who struggled for generations against discrimination, but it seems to have dulled the edge that in the past made for dramatic stage and movie plots.

Instead of the Jewish jokes by hosts during past Academy Awards, this time the traditional opening monologue, delivered by Jimmy Kimmel, were about sexual predators, and the loudest voices – and applause – were for women’s job equality, the achievements of immigrants, and the growing presence of Asian-Americans.

Two years ago, there were vociferous complaints about the nominations of almost exclusively white performers, contrasted to the absence of artists of color. This phenomenon was so pronounced that it earned the derisive label of “Oscar So White.” In a turnabout, black, Asian and Latino performers were so noticeable on Sunday’s stage that one African-American presenter wondered aloud whether the evening might be dubbed, at least in the eyes of white viewers, as “Oscar So Black.”

This article has been modified to correct Bryan Fogel’s name.

Oscars: Doping Documentary ‘Icarus’ Exposes Russian Conspiracy

Inspired by the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, filmmaker and amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel decided to see if he, too, could take performance-enhancing drugs and get away with it.

But what started out as a first-person experiment shifted radically when Fogel sought the help of Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory. In 2016, Rodchenkov blew the whistle on Vladimir Putin’s state-sponsored doping program, turning him into a fugitive in exile—and giving Fogel’s film “Icarus” cloak and dagger urgency and global significance. It’s nominated for Best Documentary Feature.

“I wanted to show how the anti-doping system in global sport was a fraud and ended up exposing a scandal on a level that I never could have imagined when I started the project,” Fogel told the Journal.

He began corresponding with Rodchenkov via email in February 2014, during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and met him that summer at a symposium in Oregon. Rodchenkov agreed to help him, and he began taking the performance-enhancing steroids and hormones—and conspiring with Rodchenkov to substitute frozen “clean” urine samples for drug-contaminated ones.

“I wanted to show how the anti-doping system in global sport was a fraud and ended up exposing a scandal on a level that I never could have imagined.”

At that point, “I knew that he was involved in what appeared to be some wrongdoing at his laboratory but I didn’t know the extent to which he was involved or how deep and vast the conspiracy was,” Fogel said. He later helped Rodchenkov escape to the United States, and felt bound to protect him “because I had no doubt of the validity of what he was showing me and the breadth of the scandal and that it led to the Kremlin’s door.”

When the news broke, “It appeared that the International Olympic Committee was going to continue to sweep this scandal under the rug,” Fogel said. But under pressure from Rodchenkov, his lawyers, and the media, the IOC launched an investigation that corroborated prior investigations and led to the exclusion of Russia from PyeongChang. (some Russians still competed under the Olympic flag as Olympic Athletes from Russia.)

Named for the doomed flyer from Greek mythology, “Icarus” references the fall and comeuppance of “Lance Armstrong and so many others who have all the success in the world but have to push it too far and get greedy,” Fogel said.

He noted that the film, now streaming on Netflix, has had ongoing impact. “The IOC will continue to investigate and decide whether there will be further sanctions and punishments down the line,” Fogel said, adding that FIFA (world soccer) is launching its own investigation into Russian players.

The Los Angeles resident, 45, was born and raised in Denver, Colo., where he grew up “Conservadox. We kept a kosher home. I went to Hebrew school, had a bar mitzvah, all of that,” he said. “I think of myself more as a cultural Jew than a religious Jew now, but I don’t have a family yet. Maybe that will change.”

Fogel started out as a playwright, actor, and standup comedian, and made a splash with the semi-autobiographical “Jewtopia” a romantic comedy that opened Off-Broadway in 2004 after a successful Los Angeles run. He wrote, produced, and starred in it, wrote a book based on it, and directed the film version from his screenplay. He hopes to make both features and documentaries going forward, and has both in early stages of development.

But right now, he’s reveling in the spotlight the Oscar nomination has brought to the film and Rodchenkov, who left his family behind in Moscow “and risked his life to tell the truth. If Russia was willing to go to this extent to win and cheat the world of Olympic medals, there’s little doubt it would meddle in democracies, hack elections and change the course of other political affairs,” Fogel said. “I hope the attention to the film will continue shine a spotlight not only on this conspiracy and corruption but the bigger questions and issues, and be a wakeup call to take action to protect democracies around the world.”

Married Jewish Filmmakers Spotlight Police Brutality Victim in ‘Traffic Stop’

In Austin, Tex. in June 2015, a minor traffic violation turned into a major incident when police officer Bryan Richter used excessive force against African American elementary school teacher Breaion King. The dash-cam footage of the arrest went viral, bringing King the kind of notoriety she never wanted. Filmmakers David Heilbroner and Kate Davis focus on the person behind the infamous footage in their film “Traffic Stop,” which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject.

The married Jewish filmmakers happened to be working on a feature-length documentary for HBO about a similar subject—Sandra Bland, a black woman who was found dead in her jail cell after her arrest for failing to signal a lane change—when they saw the King footage on YouTube. They flew to Texas to meet her and were impressed by her poise, intelligence and accomplishments. King had never been arrested before. She was someone everyone could easily relate to. But she didn’t agree to participate right away.

“She wanted to feel like she could trust us and feel comfortable with us first,” Davis said, speaking to the Journal by phone with her husband. “We worked closely with her to shape the film and find scenes to portray her life, her dancing and her teaching. We wanted to intercut that with the harshness of the dash cam.”

“This is a violent assault on a civilian that did not have to happen. I think Richter was grossly over-reactive and it was a shocking use of force. [King} gently resisted a few of the cop’s commands but was hauled out of the car and tossed around like a rag doll,” Heilbroner, a former prosecutor, said.

King’s lawsuit against the city of Austin is pending.

“I’d like to think she’ll win,” he added. “But sometimes the law isn’t just.”

“This is a violent assault on a civilian that did not have to happen. She was hauled out of the car and tossed around like a rag doll”— David Heilbroner

Calling King “a great role model for kids,” Davis praised her “courage to speak up and stand up to abusive power.” She and Heilbroner are doing what they can to get the film shown in schools, community centers, and police academies, as part of de-escalation training. “Also, I think the film can help people check their behavior more carefully when they encounter law enforcement. It could be a good teaching tool,” she said. “Things can escalate in a nanosecond. People can die. Breaion was lucky that she didn’t.”

The filmmakers found out about their first Oscar nomination when their cell phones began buzzing with congratulatory messages. “The most fun part was calling Breaion and her lawyer to tell them about it,” Heilbroner said. “They were so excited and amazed that her story is going to be at the Academy Awards and our film is going to have a national platform. Even if Breaion loses in the court of law, she may win in the court of public opinion.”

Having made the documentaries “Stonewall Uprising” and “The Newburgh Sting,” in which Muslims and gays respectively were targeted by police, and “Jockey,” an exposé of labor conditions in horse racing, Davis, 57, and Heilbroner, 60, are drawn to socially significant subjects. “I went to law school because I saw it as an agent of change, but I realized I could make a greater difference with documentary film,” Heilbroner said.

The pair met at Harvard in 1979 through their mutual love of music. Davis was a Visual Arts major, but “fell into a filmmaking class by chance and found that it suited me better. Documentaries were a way to use my visual sense with storytelling and political and social justice leanings, and my interests in psychology and music,” she said.

Davis, of Russian- and German-Jewish ancestry, is the daughter of the late Bernard Davis, a Harvard Medical School professor whose father owned a general store. Heilbroner’s mother was not Jewish; His father was the late economist and New School for Social Research professor Robert Heilbroner. His paternal grandfather, a necktie peddler from Germany, became the co-owner of the haberdashery chain Weber & Heilbroner. “It’s a very Jewish story in that our grandfathers were self-made people who came to the land of opportunity and succeeded, and their children became intellectuals and raised us as such,” Heilbroner said.

Neither grew up in a religious home or became bar or bat mitzvah, but feel culturally Jewish. “Katy and I have a really strong feeling about groups that suffer prejudice, marginalization, abuse,” Heilbroner said. “We can identify with someone like Breaion King because there is that in the nature of the Jewish experience. I think we bring that to filmmaking.”

The couple married in 1985 and had two children, Northwestern grad and Democratic campaign worker Quentin, now 23, and Brown University student Katrina, 20. “They’re our most trusted test audiences. They say what they think,” Davis said. “They give us the millennial perspective.” Heilbroner added.

He and Davis are finishing the Sandra Bland documentary, “Say Your Name,” which will premiere later this year on HBO, and Heilbroner is co-directing a biography of singer Dionne Warwicke. “Traffic Stop” is available now on HBO and its On Demand and digital platforms.

Sidney Wolinsky: Shaping ‘The Shape of Water’

Sidney Wolinksy

Out for an early morning walk near his home in Santa Monica with a neighbor, film editor Sidney Wolinsky checked his mobile phone and got the good news about his Oscar nomination for “The Shape of Water.”

“I was excited, pleased, amazed,” he told the Journal. But the film’s 13 nods including Best Picture, Best Director, and three of the four acting categories doesn’t surprise him, after its multiple wins at the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Critics’ Choice Awards.

An unlikely mix of horror, fantasy, thriller and romance, the Cold War-era story about a mute janitorial worker and an intelligent captive sea creature has resonated with critics and audiences.

“It has a very strong story and an outsider characters that people can really relate to,” Wolinsky said. “It has a very strong antagonist, and people in trouble that you want to see succeed.”

Wolinsky, who worked with director Guillermo Del Toro on the pilot of “The Strain” in 2014, appreciates the working relationship they have. “He’s very open to ideas, very collaborative,” he said, noting that Del Toro’s understanding and mastery of the fantasy-horror genre allayed his concerns about whether “The Shape of Water” would work. “He knew what he wanted to do and executed it beautifully.”

“It has a very strong story and an outsider characters that people can really relate to”— Sidney Wolinksy on “The Shape of Water”

Underwater scenes notwithstanding, the trickiest editing challenge was the climactic escape sequence. “There were a lot of moving parts and it involved all the characters who were all in different locations coming toward each other. You had to maintain the tension and make sure people understood what was going on,” Wolinsky said.

Although this is his first Oscar nomination, the Canadian native has been honored for his television work with three Emmy nominations for “The Sopranos” and a win for “Boardwalk Empire.” His credits also include “House of Cards,” “Ray Donovan,” and “Rome.”

Always interested in film, he chose to go into editing “because it was the most involved in shaping the story,” he said.

Born in Ottawa, where he lived until his parents separated when he was 12 and he moved to Montreal with his mother, Wolinsky got his bachelor’s degree in English and American literature from Brandeis University. “It was full of really smart kids who couldn’t get into Harvard or Yale,” he said, noting that he also applied to those Ivy League schools, “not realizing I hadn’t a hope in hell” of getting in.”

The fact that Brandeis is a largely Jewish school wasn’t a factor for him. “I wanted to get out of Canada,” he said.

Wolinksy’s paternal grandparents were from Belarus, and his mother and her family fled Hungary via Barcelona and Tangier in 1944. His father’s father “was an Orthodox Jew and very much a Zionist. My father stayed kosher, but drove on Saturday. He’d park a block away from my grandfather’s and walk,” Wolinksy said.

His mother’s family was not observant, and he followed suit. “I refused to go to Hebrew school. For my bar mitzvah, I learned the entire thing by rote,” he said. “I’m Jewish, it’s a part of me. But I think religion has created more problems than it has solved.”

Wolinsky, who is married and has one son and two grandchildren, doesn’t have his next project lined up. “When you’re a freelancer, you finish a job and you hope you get another job. I don’t feel that I’m in the position where I can pick directors or projects,” he said. For him, the job is all about the person running the show. “I’d like to work with good directors because you learn the most from good directors and good material.”

Lee Unkrich: ‘Coco’ Creator is the Frontrunner for Best Animated Feature

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 14: Director Lee Unkrich of COCO took part today in the Walt Disney Studios animation presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2017 in Anaheim, Calif. COCO will be released in U.S. theaters on November 22, 2017. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Seven years ago, Lee Unkrich won his first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for “Toy Story 3,” his debut directorial effort for Pixar. He’s favored to win in the category this year for the studio’s “Coco,” a celebration of family and Mexican culture that has grossed over $700 million at the worldwide box office.

“There’s something special about that first time that was mind-blowing. It was like an out of body experience,” Unkrich said of his first Oscar win. “I don’t know that I’ll have the same experience again, but it doesn’t make it any less special.”

Set during the Dia De Muertos festival honoring the dead, “Coco” “is not about death or grieving or loss, though death is certainly part of the story,” Unkrich said. “It’s about family and remembrance and the obligation that we have to pass the stories of loved ones along, and that’s a universal idea. No matter what culture or religion you’re in or even if you’re not religious at all, these are basic human notions.”

Over the course of the six years it took to make the film, Unkrich and his team made many trips to Mexico to take photos, experience Dia De Muertos, and spend time with families in rural parts of the country. “It gave us a specificity that we wouldn’t have dreamed up on our own in a studio in Northern California,” he said.

“’Coco’ is about family and remembrance and the obligation that we have to pass the stories of loved ones along. These are basic human notions.”

Pixar hired expert advisors for the first time. “We had a great responsibility to be as authentic and respectful as possible. Every single decision we made was looking through that lens of cultural appropriateness and respect,” Unkrich said, noting that “Coco” is the top-grossing film of all time in Mexico. “That tells us we did it right.”

Unkrich, 50, a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, worked in television editing before beginning his career at Pixar in 1994. He worked as an editor on “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life” and co-director on “Monsters Inc.,” Finding Nemo,” and “Toy Story 2.”

“Animation wasn’t my background, but I found that I like working slowly and meticulously and thoughtfully to create a story,” he said. “I get the same level of satisfaction that I do from live action if not more. And I love being able to make movies without being surrounded by the film industry, like I was in L.A.”

A movie-loving kid from Chagrin Falls, Oh., a suburb of Cleveland, Unkrich acted in plays and was interested in art and photography, and he felt that filmmaking would combine his interests. He grew up in a Reform Jewish home, raised by an Ashkenazi Jewish mother and a German-Catholic father who became interested in Judaism as a young man and officially converted when Unkrich was eight years old.

“My family was very active in our temple, where I had my bar mitzvah. My father was on the board and my mother was in the sisterhood. She actually ran the services in the summertime,” Unkrich said. “Even though we weren’t a particularly observant household—we didn’t keep kosher—Judaism was a big part of my childhood. I was one of the few Jews in my school. But I went to a Jewish summer camp starting at age 10 and went back every summer until I was in college. My best friends in life are my friends from camp. And I met my wife in the last summer I was there.”

Unkrich and his wife, Laura, live in Marin County and have three children, Hannah, 20, Alice, 18, and Max, 13. He maintains a strong connection to Judaism. “I’m not super-observant,” he said. “But the community has always been very important to me and to my wife, and it’s important that our kids are part of that community.”

As for his next project, it’s to be determined. “I’m still busy with ‘Coco.’ It hasn’t opened everywhere around the world,” he said, not eager to jump into something new. “First, I want to take a long vacation.”

Fewer Tribe Members Get Oscar Nods

Photo from Flickr.

In a normal year, a rundown on Academy Award nominations is cause for Jewish celebrations and self-congratulations. However, 2018 is not one of those years.

Even the iconic Steven Spielberg couldn’t break the jinx. While his widely praised “The Post,” a paean to journalistic courage, got a best picture nod, Hollywood’s most admired Jewish name was shut out of the best director list.

Another apparent shoo-in, actor James Franco, who just won a Golden Globe for his turn in “The Disaster Artist,” went missing on the Oscars’ best actor nomination list. It is a fair assumption that a rash of current reports on Franco’s sexual misbehaviors contributed to the omission.

To add to the disappointments, “Foxtrot,” Israel’s wrenching entry in the best foreign-language film category, was eliminated after earlier making the shortlist of nine nominees. In the same category, Germany’s “In the Fade,” which focused on the rise of neo-Nazism, was also eliminated.

However, not to paint an entirely dark picture, there were some eminent Jewish names on the final nomination list. Foremost is the film “Call Me By Your Name,” which probes the love affair of two young Jewish men in the 1980s, which came up with four nominations for Jewish talent. These included lead actor Timothee Chalamet, best picture, adopted screenplay and best original song (“Mystery of Love.”)

Other members of the tribe also made it to the finals — the glamorous Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood on March 4. Among them are Britain’s Daniel Day-Lewis for his role as a noted dressmaker in “Phantom Thread.” Day-Lewis, a three-time best actor winner, has announced his retirement from stage and screen.

Also nominated were veteran composer Hans Zimmer for his numerous film scores, including “Dunkirk.”

Another composer, Benj Pasek, who wrote the lyrics for last year’s hit “La La Land,” is up this time for best original song, “This Is Me,” from the musical “The Greatest Showman.”

Well, there is always next year.

JTA contributed to this report.

Israeli film makes Oscars shortlist

Screenshot from YouTube.

“Foxtrot,” Israel’s entry in the Oscar race for best-foreign language film, has made the shortlist of nine movies among submissions from 92 countries.

Directed by Samuel Maoz and starring Lior Ashkenazi and Sarah Adler, “Foxtrot” is a superb and wrenching film about parental grief at the death of a soldier son, the joys and stresses of marriage, the boredom of army life, and how Israel’s occupation humiliates the occupied and hardens the occupiers.

In a previous phone interview with the Journal, Maoz described his film as “the dance of a man with his fate … there are many variations to this dance, but they end up at the same starting point.”

The film has come under fire by Miri Regev, Minister of Culture and Sports in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. “It is inconceivable,” Regev declared publicly, “that movies which shame the reputation of the Israel Defense Forces … and that are supported [financially] by the state… are selected to showcase Israel cinema abroad.”

In the interview, Maoz did not directly address Regev’s criticism, but declared, “When my brothers are dying, I have the right to make such a movie.”

The German movie “In the Fade,” which also made the cut, addresses the rise of neo-Nazism in present-day Germany, dramatized through the murder by a neo-Nazi couple of a German woman, her Kurdish husband and their small son.

Director Fatih Akin, a German-born citizen of Turkish descent, attributed the growing neo-Nazi sentiment mainly to hostility to the large number of refugees, mainly from Muslim countries, admitted into Germany.

“We are seeing the rise of a new racism in Germany, based on the fear that the existing German identity will be altered by the refugees,” Akin said in a phone interview.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, commented that hate groups everywhere “have perfected the delivery system” of their anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish messages through the use of social and other media.”

In contrast to nearly every other year since the end of World War II, none of the 92 entries deal with the Holocaust or the Hitler era. This may well indicate that to a new generation the horrors of the 1930s and ‘40s are now ancient history.

Still, that doesn’t mean that there were no international films of note on the subject. The outstanding Hungarian film “1945” deals with the return of a Jewish father and son to their native Hungarian village, immediately after the end World War II in 1945. The movie vividly portrays the resultant fear of the village’s gentile residents, who had helped themselves to the homes and goods of their expelled Jewish neighbors, and are now in a panic at the prospect of having to return the looted goods.

Unfortunately, each country is allowed only one entry, and Hungary instead chose “On Body and Soul.” The film, which also qualified for the shortlist, focuses on an unusual romance between two workers in an animal slaughterhouse.

Problems of the Middle East get a close-up in Lebanon’s “The Insult,” also among the chosen nine films. The movie is directed by Ziad Doueiri, who earlier got into hot water in his country for shooting an earlier film in Israel.

In “The Insult,” a dispute between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee escalates into an acrimonious national dispute threatening a social explosion in divided Lebanon.

Other films and countries on the Oscars shortlist are “A Fantastic Woman” (Chile), about the tribulations of a young transgender woman;

“Loveless” (Russia), which takes a harsh look at Russian society; “The Wound” (South Africa), exploring issues of masculinity in the story of a closeted gay man; and “The Square” (Sweden), a sharp satire of the art world.

The nine shortlisted films will be winnowed down to five when nominations in all Oscar categories are announced on Jan. 23. Academy Award winners will get to clutch their trophies on March 4 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, during a glamor-filled evening televised to 225 countries and territories around the globe.

89th Academy Awards: Night of 100 Stars Oscar Party

The Night of 100 Stars Oscar viewing party is always the place to be with celebrities elbow to elbow on the red carpet!  Hollywood turned out in support of fellow actors and long-time friends to watch the Oscars at the swanky Beverly Hilton Hotel.  This year there was a mix of both film and television stars who couldn’t miss the top Oscar viewing party of the evening.

Actor Tony Denison discussed his long-running TNT series MAJOR CRIMES on which he stars opposite Mary McDonnell.  Their current season promises to be one to remember.

Actress Naomi Grossman, unrecognizable from her role in AMERICAN HORROR STORY, discussed the decision to shave her head when she booked the part on the series.  She also talked about the best types of fan encounters.

Finally, previous Oscar nominee Bruce Davison of the X-MEN franchise discussed the audition process for established actors in Hollywood.

For all of these interviews, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct links to the videos?  Click here for Tony Denison. Click here for Naomi Grossman.  Click here for Bruce Davison.

The two Oscar speeches I didn’t like

Photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

It only takes one line to kill a good speech. Viola Davis, who won an Oscar last night for her performance in “Fences,” had one of those lines.

Her speech started off beautifully:

“You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place, and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time: ‘What kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola?’ And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.”

Then, just as she held my heart with her poignant metaphor of exhuming stories, she laid a goose egg:  

I became an artist — and thank God I did — because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”

Really? The only profession? Was that necessary?

As soon as I heard “the only profession,” I started thinking: “Hmm, I’m sitting next to my nephew, who’s a doctor. Does he not celebrate, in his own way, what it means to live a life? And what about my mother, who’s also sitting with us. Has she not celebrated, in her own way, what it means to live a life?”

As Davis continued with her speech, my mind was somewhere else. I was wondering about other professions who might be offended by her exclusive claim. I was too distracted to hear the rest of her speech.

Maybe that one lame line was just a case of a poor choice of words. Maybe Davis was so caught up in the moment that she simply exaggerated. That’s possible. All I know is that she was wrong: Being an artist is not the only profession that “celebrates what it means to live a life.”

The other speech that left me speechless was read on behalf of Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director who won the best foreign film Oscar for “The Salesman.” Mr Farhadi boycotted the Oscars to protest the now-frozen travel ban ordered by President Trump.

“My absence is out of respect for the people of my country, and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.,” Mr Farhadi said.

Again, as soon as I heard that, my mind took off. Respect for the people of your country? Inhumane laws? Really?

I couldn’t help wonder if Farhadi had cynically ignored the horrific plight of people in his own country—the gays who are hanged because they’re gays, the women who are persecuted because they’re women, the dissidents who are jailed because they dare express their views.

As a filmmaker who honors the truth, it’s unlikely that Farhadi is not troubled by the dark reality that strikes his Persian brethren. Maybe he was just looking out for his own hide. After all, throwing a verbal dart at the Great Satan never got anyone in trouble. The courageous move would have been to write a speech on behalf of all those poor souls rotting unfairly in Iranian jails. Of course, that would mean taking the risk that he would end up in their company.

“Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities…” Farhadi wrote in his speech. Maybe for his next film, he can turn his camera toward the human horrors going on in his own backyard. For that film, I hope he wins Best Picture.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Oscar smiles on Jewish talent: ‘Moonlight,’ ‘La La Land’ win big

From left: Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski and Barry Jenkins pose backstage with their Best Picture award for "Moonlight." Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

It is safe to say that the happiest Jewish nominee at Sunday evening’s Academy Awards fete was producer Jeremy Kleiner, whose movie “Moonlight” was named Best Picture of the Year.

He clambered on the stage after an epic foul-up in which presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced “La La Land” as the winner.

A close second in this unofficial category was Justin Hurwitz. The songwriter, looking even younger than his 31 years, won the golden statuettes for best musical score and best original song (“City of Stars”) in “La La Land,” abetted by fellow tribesman Benj Pasek, who wrote the lilting lyrics.

Damien Chazelle, who got the best director nod for “La La Land,” deserves mention in this report as a “near” Jew. His two Catholic parents were dissatisfied with their son’s education at a church Sunday school and enrolled him in the Hebrew school of a liberal synagogue.

Over the next four years, Chazelle recalled, “I had this period in my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’”

Adding to the winning Jewish contingent was Ezra Edelman, who topped the documentary feature category with “O.J.: Made in America,” while Kenneth Lonergan won for his original screenplay for “Manchester by the Sea,”

Lonergan’s biological father was Irish, but he was raised by his Jewish mother and stepfather. “I always assumed that everyone was Jewish,” he told the New Yorker last year. After he met a few gentiles, he acknowledged ‘Oh, not everyone is Jewish’ – but that took a while to sink in.”

Mel Gibson, mostly in the news in recent years for his anti-Semitic outburst and comments, was granted Hollywood’s version of redemption when “Hacksaw Ridge,” directed by Gibson, won Oscars for best film editing and sound mixing.

Host Jimmy Kimmel broke with a long-standing Oscar tradition by abstaining from Jewish jokes. However, the foil of the evening, both in Kimmel’s monologues and in winners’ acceptance speeches, was, predictably, President Donald J. Trump.

Playing off Trump’s previous attack on Meryl Streep, Kimmel introduced her as “the overrated actress,” before asking the audience to give her “an undeserved round of applause.”

In addition, when the Iranian movie “The Salesman” was named the best foreign-language film, the audience burst into enthusiastic applause, after a written statement by its director, Asghar Farhadi, was read by his designated stand-in.

She explained Farhadi’s absence as a protest against Trump’s order banning citizens from seven countries with majority Muslim populations from entering the United States for at least 90 days. The ban has so far been suspended by U.S. courts.

Oscars 2017: 7 unexpected Jewish facts

Composer Justin Hurwitz, left, and director Damien Chazelle attend the premiere of 'La La Land' on Nov. 15, 2016. Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images for Audi

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is happy to forget 2016, when it was widely eviscerated for nominating only white artists in the major award categories for the second straight year.

But things are looking up for this year’s Academy Awards, which are set to air Sunday night, as they feature a more diverse set of nominated actors and a stronger slate of nominated films.

While the overall Oscars climate is merrier this year — not counting liberal Hollywood’s malaise over the election of Donald Trump — there are fewer than usual overtly Jewish storylines underpinning the ceremony. So we did some digging and picked out some of the unexpected Jewish tidbits from among the nominees.

The “La La Land” director is Catholic, but he went to Hebrew school.

Damien Chazelle is not yet a household name — but he might be closer to becoming one after Sunday, since his film “La La Land” is nominated for a record-tying 14 Oscars. Chazelle, 32, who broke out with his 2014 film “Whiplash,” grew up in a Catholic household in Princeton, New Jersey. However, when his parents became dissatisfied with his religious education at a church Sunday school, they enrolled him in a Hebrew school class. He attended for four years.

“I had that period of my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament, and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade,” Chazelle told the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles in 2015. “I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’”

There are finally some Jewish characters in the “Harry Potter” universe.

J.K. Rowling’s books about the young wizard enchanted readers around the world for years, so it was folly to think the series would ever end completely. The first of five new Potter “universe” films based on Rowling’s 2001 book “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” came out last fall. The entertaining flick is nominated for two awards, in the costume design and production design categories — and also features two Jewish characters, a first for a Potter universe story. Dan Fogler stars as Jacob Kowalski, a Lower East Sider trying to open his own bakery, and Katherine Waterston plays Tina Goldstein, an employee at the Magical Congress of the U.S. The story also works as an allegory about anti-Semitism in the 1920s.

A film about a Holocaust survivor’s violin could win for best documentary (short subject).

When Joe Feingold, a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor from Poland living in New York, stopped playing his violin a few years ago, he donated it to a campaign that gives instruments to needy students. It ended up in the hands of Brianna Perez, a 12-year-old student at the Bronx Learning Global Institute for Girls. But this was no ordinary violin — Feingold bought it at a displaced persons camp just after the war, and it helped him get back to the music he enjoyed before the Holocaust.

Kahane Cooperman’s 24-minute documentary on the violin’s story and a meeting of Feingold and Perez is, as a JTA writer accurately called it, a “five-handkerchief weeper” — and it has a chance of winning the award.

Natalie Portman put on an accent (non-Israeli) to earn a nomination for “Jackie.” 

In the biopic about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination, the Israel-born Portman sounds unrecognizable. That’s because she studied extensively how to sound like the former first lady, whose famously eccentric version of an old New York accent has been described as “a peculiar drawl that defies simple linguistic classification.”

But Jackie O’s voice wasn’t the first accent Portman has had to perfect — in fact, she toiled in 2015 to improve her Israeli accent for “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” her directorial debut and an adaptation of Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel. Portman plays Oz’s mother in the film, which has dialogue entirely in Hebrew.

A Jewish composer is headed for a big night.

Justin Hurwitz, who was Damien Chazelle’s Jewish roommate at Harvard, is ready to make a name for himself as well. His soundtrack for “La La Land,” written with lyricists Benj Pasek (who is also Jewish) and Justin Paul, is a lock to win the best film score award. The song “City of Stars” is also likely to win in the best individual song category. Hurwitz and Chazelle have had a fruitful relationship: The Jewish composer has worked on music for all of Chazelle’s previous films, including the acclaimed “Whiplash.”

The Irish-sounding director of “Manchester By the Sea” is also Jewish.

Kenneth Lonergan certainly sounds like an Irish Catholic name — and the writer’s father was indeed Irish. But his mother was Jewish, making him a default member of the tribe. Lonergan, who has also written several plays and the film “Gangs of New York,” was raised in a pretty secular environment by his mother and a Jewish stepfather near Central Park in New York City.

“I always assumed everyone was Jewish,” he told the New Yorker last year about his upbringing. “I didn’t know it was unusual in any way. And then I finally met some people who weren’t Jewish and I was, like, ‘Oh, not everyone is Jewish — OK.’ But that took a while to sink in.”

A nominated documentary focuses on a Jewish family with an autistic child.

Noted Jewish journalist Ron Suskind’s son Owen began showing signs of autism at age 3, when he stopped speaking and communicating the way he had before. But Suskind found an unlikely source to help coax Owen out of his frustration and silence: animated Disney movies. Owen immersed himself in the films and began communicating by repeating phrases from them. Roger Ross Williams’ touching film, which follows Owen through a crucial year in his 20s as he looks to become more independent, is nominated for best documentary. Since form often follows content, the movie includes several animated sequences.

Perfect Oscar party appetizer recipes

So you’re inviting friends over to watch the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, and you don’t want to serve them the same old chips and dip. Not to worry — the Journal asked three local chefs to come up with Oscar-worthy hors d’oeuvres recipes. The results are not only tasty but simple to prepare — and guaranteed to impress your guests.

WINTER CITRUS CEVICHE

Recipe by Matt Sieger and Rikki Garcia Sieger of the kosher Mexican food truck Holy Frijoles!

– 1 cup orange juice
– 1 cup lemon juice
– 1/4 cup lime juice
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 pound 2 ounces white sea bass (or any firm, white local fish), cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 1/2 small red onion, diced
– 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
– 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, picked from the stem and left whole
– 4 tablespoon torn mint leaves
– 1 cup winter citrus (blood oranges, mandarins, grapefruit), cut into chunks
– Kosher salt to taste

Mix orange, lemon and lime juices together in a medium bowl. Reserve half of the liquid and save in the refrigerator. Add bay leaves to remaining juice in a medium bowl. Toss in diced fish. Marinate for 4 to 6 hours in the refrigerator.

Strain off liquid and remove bay leaves from the juice mixture with the fish; discard.
Mix together remaining ingredients. Toss in fish and salt to taste (remember chips will add some saltiness). Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 6 servings.

TORTILLA ESPAÑOLA

food2

Recipe by Deborah Benaim, owner of dB Catering

– 3 large Yukon gold potatoes
– 1 liter extra virgin olive oil
– 1 yellow onion
– 10 large eggs
– 1 small bag potato chips, crushed by hand
– Salt and pepper to taste

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise and thinly slice them. Fry the potato slices in enough olive oil to submerge the potatoes in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until golden and crispy all over, about 7 to 8 minutes. Set aside in a large bowl.

Pour out all the olive oil except for about 1/4 of a cup in the frying pan just used. Season with salt and pepper and caramelize the onion in the oil over medium heat until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Take the bowl of potatoes and mix in the eggs, caramelized onion and hand-crushed potato chips. Season to taste with salt and leave to rest in the bowl for
an hour.

Heat a nonstick frying pan to a medium/hot heat, add a splash of olive oil and pour in the egg and potato mixture. After 3 to 4 minutes, turn the omelet. Finish cooking on the other side for about 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with homemade roasted bell pepper slices or store-bought piquillo peppers and a glass of your favorite
Tempranillo.

Makes 4 to 5 servings.

SICILIAN JEWISH CHICKEN MEATBALL BITES

Recipe by Elana Horwich of Meal and a Spiel cooking school, recipe blog and catering company

– Caramelized Onion and Fennel
– Jam (recipe follows)
– 2 pounds ground dark meat chicken
– 1 onion quartered
– 1 bunch Italian, flat-leaf parsley
– 1 1/2 cups raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
– 2 heaping tablespoons capers in salt from Sicily (Capperi di Salina or Capperi di Pantelleria)*
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 40-60 grinds from pepper mill

* Available in select Italian gourmet shops, such as Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, or online.

Prepare Caramelized Onion and Fennel Jam; set aside.

Allow chicken to come to room temperature and place in a medium mixing bowl.

Place quartered onion in a food processor and pulse into a pulp. Add to chicken. Place parsley in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to chicken.

Drain raisins, add to food processor and pulse until finely chopped and partially pureed. Add to chicken.

Rinse capers and dry. Finely chop them with a knife until some are almost a “powder” and some of them are chunkier. Add to chicken.

Add the salt and pepper and mix up the chicken with your hands until it is completely amalgamated. (You can do this in advance and refrigerate, just bring it to room temperature before cooking.)

Heat a large pan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, form 1-inch meatballs; don’t worry about making them perfectly rounded. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and carefully drop in a first batch of meatballs, making sure they don’t touch one another. Cook on each side about 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly cooked on the inside and well browned on the outside. Remove from pan, set on a paper towel to drain, add more oil to pan and continue to make more.

Plate the meatballs and top with a touch of Caramelized Onion and Fennel Jam.

Makes 25 meatballs.

CARAMELIZED ONION AND FENNEL JAM

– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into rounds and then cut in half
– 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
– 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Heat a wide sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, followed by the sliced onions. Let them cook until they get quite brown and maybe a tiny bit burnt, too — about 20 minutes, depending on the strength of your heat.

Place the sautéed onions in a food processor and add fennel seeds and balsamic vinegar; bring to a puree.

Makes 1/2 cup.

Unlikely villains: Denmark’s ‘Land of Mine’ is a tale of role reversals and national hatred

Oskar Bökelmann (left) as Ludwig and Emil Belton as Ernst Lessner in “Land of Mine.” Photo by Henrik Petit, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In any standard World War II movie, it is safe to assume that the Germans will be the beastly villains who vent their sadistic fury on the hapless — or heroic —  citizens of Nazi-occupied countries.

And if a poll on the nicest nation in Europe were taken at the end of World War II, it is likely that Denmark would rank at the top and Germany at or near the bottom.

“Land of Mine,” Denmark’s nominee in the Oscar race for foreign-language film, shatters the mold.

During the nearly five years after Hitler’s invasion of Denmark, German sappers seeded the Scandinavian country’s west coast with some 2 million land mines in anticipation of an eventual Allied invasion, which never happened.

With the Nazis defeated in 1945, the reconstituted Danish army decided to clear the beaches, forcing German prisoners of war to do the dangerous job. The POWs comprised a wide range of ages, but in the film, it falls to a group of 14 teenagers to do the job. The young soldiers, between 15 and 18, were drafted in Hitler’s last, desperate stand of
the war.

Their overseer is Danish Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller), who sees his assignment as a chance to get even with the detested Germans for their wartime rule, which was relatively mild until 1943, when the Danes rescued some 7,200 of the country’s 8,000 Jews by ferrying them to neutral Sweden and safety.

Rasmussen locks up his charges at night, lets them go hungry for days at a time, and cares not a whit that the untrained German youngsters are regularly blown up while trying to defuse the mines, buried only a few inches deep. (The film’s Danish title translates as “Under the Sand,” which gets lost in the English title’s rather heavy-handed play on words.)

In one nail-biting scene, the young POWs are made to walk, arms linked, across a still mine-infested beach.

When the sergeant’s attitude toward his charges gradually softens — he even steals some bread from the commissary for them — he is upbraided by his commanding officer.

Martin Zandvliet, the highly regarded Danish director and screenwriter, acknowledges that he received some hate mail after the film was released in his country. However, at 46, he and most of his fellow citizens were born well after the war and can view it at some emotional distance.

During a phone interview, Zandvliet described two aspects of his film as drawing some general observations on human nature and in re-examining the attitudes of his countrymen during the Nazi occupation.

One facet of the film is the enduring nature of national hatred, even in a country like Denmark, which “pictures itself as a happy country,” he said.

How do we deal with such hatred, pervasive throughout the world? How do we find a way to talk to one another?

Zandvliet shows no reluctance in questioning some of the laudatory beliefs about his country’s role during World War II.

In almost any recollection of the Holocaust, one of the few bright spots is the rescue of 7,200 of Denmark’s Jews, who escaped the Nazi clutches when they were ferried out of the country by Danish underground fighters and fishermen. The director lauds the risks taken by many Danes in this clandestine operation, but notes that quite a few Jews had to hand over considerable amounts of money to be rescued.

Overall, he observed, the Danes, as fellow “Aryans,” were treated better by the Nazis than the people of any other occupied country. But on the whole, Zandvliet said, his countrymen didn’t really “turn against the Germans until they started losing the war.”

To illustrate the endurance of national hatreds, Zandvliet looked further back into history. The Danes, he said, had never forgiven the Germans for the outcome of an 1864 war, when the Prussians incorporated some Danish territory as the spoils of victory.

One other conclusion from his film, he observed, is that “when adults go to war, it’s often the kids who pay the price. … Of course, you can’t compare this to the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust,” but in the case of the young German soldiers depicted in the film, “we have to remember that they were only 9 to 11 years old when World War II started.”

In general, “Land of Mine” has been well received in Denmark, despite the few hate mails, Zandvliet said, adding, “On the whole, Danes seemed to understand what I was trying to say.”

“Land of Mine” is playing at Laemmle’s Royal in West L.A., Playhouse in Pasadena and Town Center in Encino. It opens March 10 at the Claremont 5 in Claremont.

Middle Eastern filmmakers don’t filter through lens of Arab-Israel conflict this year

"Sand Storm," Israel's submission to the Oscars, is about a Bedouin community.

To headline readers and TV news watchers, the Middle East is a region constantly roiled by conflicts, with nonstop fighting between nations and among their militant factions.

But if the movies, particularly those submitted by 85 countries for Oscar recognition, are an indication of popular tastes and concerns, then the Israel-Arab standoff and other hot and cold wars are all but ignored by the region’s filmmakers.

Checking out this year’s Academy Award entries from Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, all but one forgo nationalistic bravado or hostile propaganda in favor of themes familiar to most Hollywood fans.

Israeli filmmakers have rarely struck any military poses in the past but have frequently come up with highly critical portraits of their own society. By contrast, this year’s entry “Sand Storm,” is a sympathetic and sharply observed picture of a Bedouin community in the Negev in the midst of generational changes. All the picture’s dialogue is in in Arabic.

Lebanon’s entry, “Very Big Shot,” takes a satirical look at the country’s politics and endless infighting. The comedy is about a small-time Beirut drug dealer who tries to pull off one big coup by posing as an important film producer.

The Palestinian entry, “The Idol,” is a variant on the venerable Hollywood storyline of “A Star Is Born,” but with a local twist. Director Hany Abu-Assad based the picture on the true story of Mohammed Assaf, raised in Gaza, who fulfills his burning ambition to travel to Cairo and compete in the top-rated TV show “Arab Idol.” He wins, becomes a singing sensation and a symbol of hope for his fellow Palestinians.

Abu-Assad’s earlier movie, “Paradise Now,” triggered a heated debate in 2005 about whether the originating entity should be listed as Palestinian Authority, Palestinian Territories or Palestine. Since then, all sides seem to have tired of the controversy and “The Idol” is credited simply to “Palestine.”

One rarely thinks of Saudi Arabia in terms of romantic comedy, but “Barakah Meets Barakah” sets a precedent. In a kingdom where unchaperoned contact between the genders is prohibited, the attempt by a young civil servant to meet up with a girl takes on a Chaplinesque flavor. However, as in the case of Israel’s “Sand Storm,” on a deeper level, the Saudi picture explores the clash between traditional values and the modern world.

The grimmest entry is Egypt’s “Clash,” centering on the 2013 Cairo riots, triggered by confrontations between the military government and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. The action is seen mainly from the perspective of various Cairo residents, crammed inside a police paddy wagon.

Among all of Israel’s neighbors, only Jordan’s “3000 Nights” has a pronounced anti-Israel slant in the story of an arrested Palestinian woman having her baby in an Israeli prison.

One caveat in viewing these movies is that an American outsider might overlook some of the clues to more fervent nationalistic emotions boiling beneath the innocent-sounding themes. This holds particularly true for “The Idol” and director Abu-Assad, who earned Oscar nominations with two of his previous films, “Paradise Now” and “Omar,” both focusing directly on Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.

In a phone interview, Abu-Assad observed, “To the Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, the victory of one of their own in the ‘Arab Idol’ show became a symbol of hope and pride.

“For 60 to 70 years, their lives have been characterized by defeats. Suddenly they had a voice to sing and speak for them.”

The directors and casts of these six films from the Middle East have at least one emotion in common: their disappointment in being eliminated from the Oscar race by the selection committee.

The ultimate winners will be crowned at the Feb. 26 ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

 

Denmark’s ‘Land of Mine’ is a tale of retribution, national hatred

From left: Joel Basman as Helmut Morbach and Louis Hofmann as Sebastian Schumann Photo by Henrik Petit in "Land of Mine." Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

In any standard World War II movie, it is safe to assume that the Germans will be the beastly villains who vent their sadistic fury on the hapless — or heroic — citizens of Nazi-occupied countries.

And if a poll on the nicest nation in Europe were taken at the end of World War II, it is likely that Denmark would rank at the top and Germany at or near the bottom.

“Land of Mine,” Denmark’s nominee in the Oscar race for foreign-language film, shatters the mold.

During the nearly five years after Hitler’s invasion of Denmark, German sappers seeded the Scandinavian country’s west coast with some 2 million land mines in anticipation of an eventual Allied invasion, which never happened.

With the Nazis defeated in 1945, the reconstituted Danish army decided to clear the beaches, forcing German prisoners of war to do the dangerous job. The POWs comprised a wide range of ages, but in the film, it falls to a group of 14 teenagers to do the job. The young soldiers, between 15 and 18, were drafted in Hitler’s last, desperate stand of the war.

Their overseer is Danish Sgt. Carl Rasmussen (Roland Moller), who sees his assignment as a chance to get even with the detested Germans for their wartime rule, which was relatively mild until 1943, when the Danes rescued some 7,200 of the country’s 8,000 Jews by ferrying them to neutral Sweden and safety.

Rasmussen locks up his charges at night, lets them go hungry for days at a time, and cares not a whit that the untrained German youngsters are regularly blown up while trying to defuse the mines, buried only a few inches deep. (The film’s Danish title translates as “Under the Sand,” which gets lost in the English title’s rather heavy-handed play on words.)

In one nail-biting scene, the young POWs are made to walk, arms linked, across a still mine-infested beach.

When the sergeant’s attitude toward his charges gradually softens — he even steals some bread from the commissary for them — he is upbraided by his commanding officer.

Martin Zandvliet, the highly regarded Danish director and screenwriter, acknowledges that he received some hate mail after the film was released in his country. However, at 46, he and most of his fellow citizens were born well after the war and can view it at some emotional distance.

During a phone interview, Zandvliet described two aspects of his film as drawing some general observations on human nature and in re-examining the attitudes of his countrymen during the Nazi occupation.

One facet of the film is the enduring nature of national hatred, even in a country like Denmark, which “pictures itself as a happy country,” he said. How do we deal with such hatred, pervasive throughout the world, he asked, how do we find a way to talk to one another?

Zandvliet shows no reluctance in questioning some of the laudatory beliefs about his country’s role during World War II.

In almost any recollection of the Holocaust, one of the few bright spots is the rescue of 7,200 of Denmark’s Jews, who escaped the Nazi clutches when they were ferried out of the country by Danish underground fighters and fishermen. The director lauds the risks taken by many Danes in this clandestine operation, but notes that quite a few Jews had to hand over considerable amounts of money for their rescues.

Overall, he observed, the Danes, as fellow “Aryans,” were treated better by the Nazis than the people of any other occupied country. But on the whole, Zandvliet said, his countrymen didn’t really “turn against the Germans until they started losing the war.”

To illustrate the endurance of national hatreds, Zandvliet looked further back into history. The Danes, he said, had never forgiven the Germans for the outcome of an 1864 war, when the Prussians incorporated some Danish territory as the spoils of victory.

One other conclusion from his film, he observed, is that “when adults go to war, it’s often the kids who pay the price. … Of course, you can’t compare this to the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust,” but in the case of the young German soldiers depicted in the film, “we have to remember that they were only 9 to 11 years old when World War II started.”

In general, “Land of Mine” has been well received in Denmark, despite the few hate mails, Zandvliet said, adding, “On the whole, Danes seemed to understand what I was trying to say.”

 

“Land of Mine” opens Feb. 10 at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Feb. 17 at Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and Town Center 5 in Encino.

Oscars salute a city of stars — and many are Jewish

Photo by Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

Oscar belted out “City of Stars” on Jan. 24, with a special nod to Jewish talent, as the 89th Academy Award nominations were announced at 5:30 a.m. local time.

The uplifting musical “La La Land” danced off with 14 nominations, including one for best picture — tying the records of “All About Eve” and “Titanic,” thanks mainly to two former Harvard roommates, Justin Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle, both 32.

Hurwitz (see profile on Page 63) received nods for musical score and original song (with Benj Pasek’s lilting lyrics) for both “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream).” Chazelle was nominated in the director and screenplay categories.

Chazelle told the Jewish Journal last year that his parents, although Catholic, were dissatisfied with their son’s education at a church Sunday school so they enrolled him in the Hebrew school of a liberal synagogue.

Over the next four years, Chazelle recalled, “I had that period of my life where I was very, very into Hebrew and the Old Testament, and then I went with my class to Israel when we were in the sixth grade. I don’t think they even knew I wasn’t Jewish; I was, like, ‘passing.’ ”

Two noted thespians were nominated in the lead actress race: Jerusalem native Natalie Portman for her role as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy in “Jackie,” and veteran French star Isabelle Huppert in the French film “Elle.”

Huppert, who plays a successful businesswoman who plots an elaborate revenge on the home intruder who raped her, is the daughter of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. Her parents were married while France was under Nazi occupation, with her father hiding his Jewish roots.

In the lead actor category, a nod went to American-British actor Andrew Garfield, whose paternal grandparents were Jews who emigrated from Eastern Europe to London. He stars in “Hacksaw Ridge,” the story of the only conscientious objector ever awarded the Medal of Honor.

The movie also earned a nomination for director Mel Gibson, still living down his anti-Semitic outbursts of the past. However, actor and director got along well, with Garfield declaring in a TV interview, “I am proud to be Jewish.”

Also in the running for outstanding achievement in direction is Kenneth Lonergan for the critically acclaimed “Manchester by the Sea.” Lonergan’s mother and stepfather are Jewish.

“Joe’s Violin,” a film by Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen, made the cut in the short documentary category. It explores the friendship between a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor and a 12-year-old Bronx schoolgirl and how the power of music can brighten the darkest of times.

The winners will be crowned Feb. 26 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The ceremony will be broadcast to 225 countries and territories worldwide.

Will Oscar finally embrace Israel?

Some 85 countries — from Albania to Yemen — have entered a movie selection in pursuit of an Oscar for best foreign-language film. Over the score of years that this annual column has been printed, two questions by concerned Jewish readers persist:

Will Israel, which has placed 10 times among the five finalists but has never won, finally take home the golden statuette as the global champion?

And will the constantly predicted “Holocaust fatigue” spell an end to films about the Nazi era, 71 years after the end of the slaughter?

The selection process for best international picture is notoriously erratic, but, with fingers crossed, Israel’s entry “Sand Storm” seems to have a real fighting chance to end the country’s 52-year Academy Award drought.

As the first feature film from Israeli director-writer Elite Zexer, “Sand Storm,” entirely in Arabic, should appeal to the selection jury as a probing but sympathetic portrayal of a Bedouin family and community in the Negev, clashing between traditional ways and youthful rebellion. The movie, which Zexer developed over a 10-year period, has won a basketful of awards at international film festivals, and an Oscar would, of course, be the ultimate icing on the cake.

Entries from six other countries indicate that the Nazi era, the Holocaust and World War II have lost none of their fascination for filmmakers.

Austria’s “Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe” traces the life of the world-famous Jewish novelist (“The Royal Game”), who left Vienna and went into exile in 1934. Though feted abroad, he could not overcome the intellectual and spiritual separation from a war-ravaged Europe and, together with his wife, committed suicide in 1942 in Brazil.

At the center of the Russian entry “Paradise” is a Russian noblewoman, working as a fashion editor in Paris, who is thrown into a concentration camp for sheltering two Jewish children.

Denmark’s “Land of Mine” is surely one of the oddest World War II movies, in which the viewer’s sympathy is with a group of teenage German soldiers. At war’s end, they are forced to dig out and dismantle thousands of land mines buried by the Wehrmacht, which anticipated an Allied invasion on the beaches of Denmark’s western coast. The bad guys, surprisingly, are a sadistic Danish sergeant and his officer, who persist in their mission even as more and more of their young captives are blown up by the exploding land mines.

Norway presents a more traditional view of resistance to Nazi occupation in “The King’s Choice.” In April 1940, Nazi forces invaded Norway by sea and demanded that King Haakon VII capitulate. The monarch refused and, in exile, orchestrated his countrymen’s resistance to the German occupation.

“The Liberation of Skopje,” entered by Macedonia, recaptures the struggle for the nation’s capital against the German occupiers. The World War II drama is seen through the eyes of 8-year-old Zoran, who watches heartbroken when his best friend, a Jewish girl, is crammed into a box car heading for a death camp.

Harking back to the run-up to World War II, “Lost in Munich” is an absurdist Czech comedy, anchored in the 1938 Munich agreement, in which Britain and France pressured Czechoslovakia into giving up most of its strategic borderland to Hitler.

Should any of the cited six movies connected to the World War II era get the Oscar nod, it would follow in the footsteps of last year’s recipient, Hungary’s “Son of Saul,” set entirely among Jewish prisoners in a death camp. The preceding year, the winner was Poland’s “Ida,” the story of an aspiring nun about to take her vows, who discovers that her parents were Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Switching time and location, Israel’s neighbors in the Middle East may not look kindly on the Jewish state, but their Oscar entries are focused elsewhere. Instead, they deal mainly with their internal disputes or find relief in such conventional movie themes as breaking into showbiz or young romance.

Jordan’s “3000 Nights” has the strongest anti-Israel slant in the depiction of a Palestinian woman having a baby in an Israeli prison.

However, the grimmest entry is Egypt’s “Clash,” centering on the 2013 Cairo riots, triggered by confrontations between the military government and the Muslim Brotherhood. The action takes place entirely inside a paddy wagon in which police have crammed a hapless cross section of the population.

The Palestinian entry, “The Idol,” eschews politics in favor of the true story of Mohammed Assaf, raised in Gaza, who fulfills his burning ambition to travel to Egypt to compete on the TV show “Arab Idol.” He wins and becomes a singing sensation and a symbol of hope for his fellow Palestinians.

One rarely thinks of Saudi Arabia in terms of romantic comedy, but “Barakah Meets Barakah” breaks the mold. In a country where unchaperoned contact between genders is prohibited, the attempts of a young civil servant to meet up with a girl takes on a Chaplinesque flavor. However, as in the case of Israel’s “Sand Storm,” on a deeper level, the Saudi picture explores the clash between traditional values and the modern world.

The Oscar ceremony will be broadcast Feb. 26. 

Natalie Portman calls her babies ‘good luck charms’ as Oscar speculation swirls

Actress Natalie Portman said her babies are “good luck charms,” when asked about early Oscar speculation for her latest movie.

“I think they’re good luck charms in life,” Portman, 35, told Entertainment Tonight in an interview aired Sunday, “They’re the best things. The best main miracles.”

The Israeli-born actress, pregnant with her second child, is promoting the upcoming biopic, Jackie, in which she portrays former First Lady Jackie Kennedy. The film is scheduled to open on December 2.

She was pregnant with her first child, Aleph, now 5, when she won her first Oscar for Best Actress in 2011.

“I don’t necessarily connect it [to winning an Oscar],” she said. “But it is certainly a joy.”

Portman is slated to play Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first Jewish female U.S. Supreme Court justice, in another future film.

‘Son of Saul’ wins Oscar for Foreign Language Film

Jewish talent received a fair share of recognition and the Holocaust-themed “Son of Saul” beat entries from 80 countries to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film, but overall the Sunday evening Academy Awards show in Hollywood skipped the light touch and Jewish jokes in favor of some deep soul-searching.

Triggered by a shutout of non-white (and generally non-Anglo-Saxon) nominees in the prestigious acting categories and spurred by a high-profile Diversity Campaign, there was a heavy, and justifiable, emphasis on the lack of black performers and other artists for the second year in a row.

In addition, Oscar winning films ranged across such themes as the Catholic Church’s cover-up of pedophile priests, and “honor” killings of women in Pakistan. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke out against sexual abuse on college campuses and best actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio pitched for climate change awareness.

“Son of Saul,” entered by Hungary and centering on a member of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau, forced to lead fellow Jews into the gas chambers and cremate their remains, was the favorite to top the field, and did not disappoint

Sharing in the film’ success were director Laszlo Nemes, actor Geza Rohrig, Hungary’s film fund which underwrote most of the $1.6 million budget, and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which contributed $50,000.

In his acceptance speech, Nemes observed that “even in the darkest hour of mankind, there might be a voice within us that allows us to remain human.”

Gabor Sipor, the film’s producer, contrasted Hungary’s underwriting of the film to such “less anti-Semitic” countries as Germany, France and Israel, which had turned down requests for support.

Emerging as the winner among 124 contenders for best documentary feature was “Amy,” a British film on singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, described by her brother as “a little Jewish kid from North London with a big talent.” Her meteoric career and tortured life were cut short at 27 through drug abuse and alcohol poisoning.

In addition, while accepting his adapted screenplay Oscar for “The Big Short,” the film's co-author, Charles Randolph, gave a shout-out to his wife, Israeli actress Mili Avital, by telling her “ani ohev otach” (“I love you” in Hebrew).

Other Jewish Oscar winners in major categories included:

Michael Sugar as co-producer of “Spotlight,” the best picture winner. In his remarks, he observed “This film gives a voice to survivors and this Oscar amplifies the voice which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”

Best original screenplay: Josh Singer (with Tom McCarthy), also for “Spotlight.”

Best cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki for “The Revenant.” This was the third year in a row that the Mexican citizen won the prize. American-Israeli Arnon Milchan was the film’s co-producer.

Veteran Academy Award observers noted the absence of the old-time Jewish jokes, as when emcee Bob Hope, who never received an acting award, lamented that in his house the Oscar award ceremony was known as “Passover.”

It was left to brash comedienne Sarah Silverman, one of the award presenters, to uphold the tradition by squeezing into her few sentences a reference to “meshuggah” and a supposed preference by the fictional James Bond for “Jewish women with big boobs.”

The country BDS doesn’t want Oscar winners to see

Last week, two groups affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement took out a full-page ad in the L.A. Times excoriating the Israeli Government for offering an all-expenses-paid trip to the Holy Land for Oscar nominees. Leveling the false, but oft-repeated charge that Israel is an apartheid state, they called on the nominees to turn down the opportunity to visit.

Many countries run public relations campaigns in the U.S. to burnish their national brands and promote tourism. Only Israel – the one democracy and America’s strongest ally in the region – is systematically singled out and criticized for it. 

While turning a blind eye to the horrific human right’s records of virtually every other country in our region – from Iran’s jailing of journalists and murder of political dissidents, to the Syrian regime’s slaughter of its own people, to Yemen’s brutal repression of religious minorities – the BDS Movement looks for any opportunity to go after Israel. 

This Movement’s goal is clear and simple: to demonize, delegitimize, and ultimately, destroy the world’s only Jewish state through economic warfare and vile lies – the same tactics long employed by anti-Semites to attack the Jewish people. Instead of pursuing peace and justice as BDS activists claim, these groups sow the seeds for hate and conflict, publicly rejecting a two-state solution and calling for Israel to be removed from the map. 

The ad raises the question: why exactly is the BDS Movement so desperate to keep people from seeing Israel with their own eyes? 

Perhaps it is because the boycotts and slander of BDS cannot hide a simple truth, which is that the freest Arab population in the Middle East lives in Israel. Far from an apartheid state, Israel is the only country in the region with an independent judiciary, a thriving and open civil society, and guaranteed political and legal rights for all of its citizens. 

Indeed, if Oscar nominees take us up on the offer to come to Israel, they will meet Arab-Israelis who serve at the highest levels of government, from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet to the Parliament to the Supreme Court, along with Arab-Israeli leaders in science, medicine, business, and the arts. In a survey by the Statnet research institute, 77% of Arab Israelis said that they would prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty rather than Palestinian rule. 

Israel is not perfect. Like minorities in many countries, the Arab-Israeli community faces challenges– and one of our government’s main priorities is to close the social, economic, and educational gaps that now exist between the general population and communities like Arab-Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

We are making progress on this front. The presence of Arab students in Israel universities has risen more than 50% over the past decade and it continues to increase, particularly among women. Arab-Israelis are 20 percent of Israel’s population, but now account for 22 percent of the student body at the Technion – Israel’s leading institution of science and technology. Just last month, the Israeli Government announced a plan to allocate an additional $3.8 billion to improve housing, social welfare, infrastructure, transportation and education for Arab-Israeli communities. 

The situation for Arabs in Israel marks a stark contrast to life in Gaza – an area that Israel withdrew from completely in 2005 – where the Hamas terrorist organization continues to rule, brutally oppressing the population, particularly women, political dissidents, and members of the LGBT community. In the West Bank, Palestinians live with the tragic consequences of their failed and corrupt leadership, which has rejected far-reaching U.S. and Israeli peace offers that included a Palestinian state in 97 percent of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Today Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to sit at the negotiating table with Israel to pursue a two-state solution. 

The true path to peace lies in building bridges, not promoting boycotts. The real advocates for justice will look for opportunities to create dialogue between the two parties, instead of simply demonizing one of them. 

The good news is that aside from the very small group of radicals behind the BDS Movement, millions across America and around the world are building stronger relationships than ever with Israel, which has become a center of innovation and a magnet for solutions in so many spheres, from high-tech to water to medicine. 

As we have since our founding, Israel will continue striving to advance our core values of democracy and human rights, improve life for all our citizens, and extend our hand in the hopes of building a brighter future of prosperity and peace with our neighbors. 

David Siegel is the Consul General of Israel to the Southwest.

Ad accusing Israel of apartheid published in Los Angeles Times

A full-page ad that calls on Oscar nominees to refuse a free Israel trip worth $55,000 offered in their Academy Award swag bags was published in the Los Angeles Times.

The ad, which says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” appeared Wednesday in the newspaper’s Calendars section days after the entertainment magazine Variety refused to publish the ad, sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Co-sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the ad has a top line reading “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians.”

The Israeli government is sponsoring the all-expenses paid, 10-day luxury travel pack with first-class air travel to Tel Aviv. The trip is included in swag bags for Oscar host Chris Rock and all nominees in the best actor/actress, best supporting actor/actress and director categories.

Variety initially accepted payment for the group’s ad, but then said it could not publish the ad since “it would need to have a softer tone.” JVP said in a statement it had asked for suggestions of “specific edits,” but was told “The topic is too sensitive at this time and we will not be in a position to add it to next week’s edition.”

“We’re glad the LA Times is running our ad,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of JVP, said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Censorship has no place in a serious publication, whether in ads or editorial content.”

Full-page ad in L.A. Times calls Israel apartheid state; Variety previously rejected it

On Wednesday morning, Feb. 24, The Los Angeles Times published a full-page ad sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation calling Israel an apartheid state and saying it distracts the public from human rights abuses; the same ad had been rejected by Variety.

The ad appears on page 8 of the Calendar section and implores Oscar nominees to “#SKIPTHETRIP,” referring to a luxury trip to Israel offered in a gift bag of various items from Explore Israel (a tourist agency) and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. The gift is being offered to 25 Oscar nominees in the acting and directing categories, plus Chris Rock, host of Sunday night’s Academy Awards presentation. According to The Daily Beast, the total value of the gifts in the bags is about $200,000, including the free 10-day VIP trip to Israel, which is believed to be worth about $55,000. The gift bag also offers one year’s worth of unlimited Audi car rentals from Silvercar, a 15-day walking tour of Japan, a lifetime supply of skin creams from Lizora, and a number of other luxury items. Distinctive Assets, an L.A.-based marketing firm, organized the gift bags.

[RELATED: Disputed territories – undisputed double standard]

The Times’ ad describes the free trip to Israel as “at the expense of Palestinians,” and calls on the celebrities receiving the gifts to not “endorse Israeli apartheid.”

“This year’s top Oscar nominees are getting a $55,000 trip to Israel, sponsored by the Israeli government,” the ad reads. “This is part of a larger ‘Brand Israel’ strategy to use celebrities to distract from almost 50 years of illegal occupation of Palestinian land and human rights abuses including separate laws for Palestinians.” 

Oscar nominees who have said they would not “visit Israel professionally,” according to Jewish Voice for Peace, include Best Supporting Actor nominee Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) and Asif Kapadia, whose documentary, “Amy,” is nominated for Best Documentary (Feature). Kapadia is not among those being offered the gift.

Both Jewish Voice for Peace and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation are left-wing groups that support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which claims Israel is an “apartheid state” and aims to weaken Israel and isolate its economy from the rest of the world.

On Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace sent out a press release stating that the entertainment news magazine Variety had refused to publish the ad after initially accepting it. The release said that Variety’s Director of Strategic Partnerships told Jewish Voice for Peace that the ad’s “topic is too sensitive at this time” and that publisher Michelle Sobrino-Stearns had rejected it. Variety did not respond to requests for comment from The Jewish Journal.

Ari Wohlfeiler, Jewish Voice for Peace’s deputy director, said in an email that the price of running the ad was the standard rate for any ad in that section of the L.A. Times – about $10,000. Asked whether an image in the ad of what appears to be a trip voucher to Israel was an image of the actual voucher from the Oscar gift bag, Wohlfeiler said, “As far as we know.”

Wohlfeiler said that when Variety rejected the ad, it did not offer suggestions for edits that might make it acceptable. The L.A. Times also had some editorial requirements, he said, but was willing to run the ad once they were met. “They required we put a bar at the top explaining overly that this was an ad paid for by JVP and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and asked that we remove a link to a webpage describing Variety’s refusal to print the ad,” Wohlfeiler said.

Hillary Manning, a spokeswoman for the L.A. Times, said the newspaper doesn’t discuss any specific ad buys, but that it “accepts advocacy and opinion-based advertising in its pages” and that this ad “was reviewed to ensure that it meets our standards and guidelines.”

Haim Saban, a film and television producer who's also a major supporter of Israel, connected the ad to the BDS movement, saying it follows a pattern of hate toward the Jewish state: “The BDS has made it clear that their purpose is to delegitimize Israel using whatever tactic they can. In this case, using the Oscars for a hate-filled message.”

Saban suggested that anyone viewing the ad “should regard it for what it is – an organization trying to spread anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, condemned the L.A. Times for running the ad, but added he’s not surprised, noting that in 2006 the newspaper had published an op-ed by Khaled Mashal titled, “We shall never recognize…a Zionist state on our soil.” Mashal heads the political wing of Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group whose stated aim is the destruction of Israel.

“For a leading newspaper that has already provided op-ed space to a senior person of Hamas, whose charter is to destroy the Jewish state, what’s the big deal about accepting an ad that’s a lie?” Cooper asked, rhetorically.

Cooper said groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation want to stop celebrities from visiting Israel because “Israel sells itself” to tourists.

“It’s an open society with plenty of warts and plenty of problems, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out pretty quickly that to call it an apartheid state is a lie,” Cooper said. “For the L.A. Times, after other publications in this town rejected it, for the L.A. Times to allow unencumbered Israel apartheid on a full-page ad is a massive victory for people who oppose peace.”

On Feb. 26, JVP, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Artists for Palestine UK and the Palestinian Performing Arts Network sent satirical invitations to representatives for the same 25 nominees “to visit Palestine and experience life through the eyes of Palestinians living under apartheid and military occupation,” according to a press release. Guests would receive an “occupied territories swagbag,” including “settler-inflicted beatings” and an “uprooted olive tree.”

In response to the ad in the L.A. Times, Creative Community for Peace, a Los Angeles-based entertainment industry organization dedicated to countering cultural boycotts of Israel, created the hashtag, #TAKETHETRIP, and the organization posted an altered version of the Times ad on its Facebook page that reads, “This Free Trip to Israel Can Advance Peace with the Palestinians.”

“We were aware JVP attempted to put an ad in Variety. We were aware of that and we’re following it closely,” Jill Hoyt, director at Creative Community for Peace, said in a phone interview. “I can’t say I knew they were planning an ad in the Los Angeles Times today, but once we saw it, we felt the need to respond as we did on social media, and obviously to share with you and other people we think it’s not helpful toward achieving peace and … to get to some kind of resolution.”

Actor Josh Malina, an active supporter of Israel, said it's important to call out hate speech, but to do it wisely: “The anti-Israel forces are certainly strong and vocal, and when they cross the line into hate speech and anti-Semitism, as they often do, they should be called on it,” Malina wrote in an email. “That said, I would urge people who consider themselves pro-Israel to consider that this doesn’t preclude them from being pro-Palestinian as well. We rail against BDS groups because they judge Israel with a striking double-standard, refusing to recognize and reckon with Palestinian violence and terrorism. Let us on the pro-Israel 'side' avoid making the same mistake. Palestinians are fellow human beings. As with all other countries, there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Israeli actions, and these should be part of the discussion. Ultimately, anyone who suggests that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is something other than a conflict between two parties, is guilty of misrepresenting the truth, and is not helping to create an environment where positive progress might be made.”

The gift bags have caused concern on other fronts, as well. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), which oversees the Oscars and does not give out bags, filed a civil suit on Feb. 16 against Distinctive Assets, the marketer behind the gifts, accusing the company of trademark infringement, false advertising and trademark dilution, according to a complaint available on the United States District Court website.

The BDS movement applauded AMPAS’ decision to sue Distinctive Assets, even though the suit has nothing to do with Israel.

“The Academy’s decision to sue Distinctive Assets was based purely on its need to protect its intellectual property and clarify that it is not affiliated in any way with Distinctive Assets or its gift bags,” an AMPAS spokesperson said. “Politics played no role in the decision, and neither the destination of any of the trips involved in Distinctive Assets' gift packages, nor who was paying for them, was relevant to the Academy choosing to file suit.”

***

UPDATE (Monday, Feb. 29, 10:30am): This story was updated to reflect a satirical invitation sent by pro-BDS groups on Feb. 26.

Jewish Journal senior writer Danielle Berrin and Naomi Pfefferman, the Journal's arts & entertainment editor, contributed to this report.

Writers shrug off bad rap over ‘Straight Outta Compton’

In the fall of 2013, as production was gearing up for the Universal Studios biopic about the 1980s rap group N.W.A, the producers needed a screenwriter to help pare down an existing script. The work also needed to be done quickly for the film, “Straight Outta Compton,” to get the tax credit to actually be filmed in Compton and the Los Angeles area, instead of in New Orleans.

The producers included N.W.A members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, and they turned to an as-yet-unproduced screenwriter, Jonathan Herman, who was both hungry to take on the project and could write fast. 

“I think this was a situation where it helped that I was Jewish,” said Herman, who grew up in Connecticut. “I heard from the studio that they had asked a lot of other people before me who couldn’t deliver the script in a month. I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I was able to work straight through Christmas and New Year and really put my nose to the grindstone.”

Herman’s version built on years of work already put in by Andrea Berloff, the film’s other credited screenwriter, who had been with the project since 2009 when it was first developed by New Line Cinema. In preparation for her first draft, Berloff had spent more than 10 months interviewing rap star Ice Cube, Eazy-E’s widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, and as many people associated with N.W.A and Death Row Records as possible. As the project moved from studio to studio, Berloff’s script eventually ended up at Universal, which brought it to Herman. 

Herman and Berloff never worked together on the “Compton” script in the conventional sense, but the finished product has proven to be a fruitful collaboration. Released last August, “Straight Outta Compton” has earned extensive critical praise and taken in more than $200 million at the box office. The screenplay also earned the film its sole Oscar nomination, in the best original screenplay category. 

Both writers are aware of the irony. Given that the 2016 Oscar season has seen the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences receive considerable backlash for a lack of diversity, particularly in the acting categories, many have questioned how a critical favorite like “Straight Outta Compton” could be shut out … except for its white screenwriters? 

Herman and Berloff have heard the mutterings about race, both when they first signed on and all through the awards season publicity mill.

“We’re glad that we can represent the movie and be having these conversations and answer these questions, because the movie was snubbed, and a lot of people can’t,” Herman said. “I happen to disagree that this is all the fault of the academy. It’s more of a studio casting problem, since the academy doesn’t make the movies. I don’t think either of us is going to accept any kind of blame. We actually are examples of storytellers who are telling diverse stories. We aren’t the problem.”

Berloff encountered blogosphere backlash when news first circulated that a white woman had been hired to tell the story of celebrated black male rap artists. She notes that, in addition to being qualified, she is also something of a rarity, as only 11 percent of the films produced in 2015 were written by women.  

“By and large, studios don’t make films with a female voice. They do not make female-centered movies,” said Berloff, whose past credits include the 2010 Oliver Stone-directed film “World Trade Center.” “So I’m not sure what movie everybody would be comfortable with me writing.”

“Compton” is set in the mid-1980s and charts the friendship and musical rise of Compton natives Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell), as well as the formation — and eventual breakup — of the rap group N.W.A. The film depicts a rift between the three friends, which was spurred, in some measure, by the influence of former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti). When Ice Cube leaves the group, he calls out Heller in the song “Vaseline”: “It’s a case of divide and conquer / Cuz you let a Jew break up my crew … ” 

An enraged Heller calls the Anti-Defamation League, and Cube is eventually interviewed and taken to task by a reporter for his music’s anti-Semitic views. 

From left: Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff

In the film, Cube replies that his gripe is specifically with Heller, not with the Jews. Berloff and Herman, both of whom were raised in observant Jewish households, said they discussed the subject of attitudes toward Jews with the filmmakers and ultimately were pleased with the film’s treatment of the subject.

“We talked about it quite a bit, and I would not have been comfortable had we not addressed it in the movie. I felt like it had to be in there,” said Berloff, whose grandmother was a Hebrew school teacher. “Cube said the first time someone called him anti-Semitic, he had no idea what that even meant.” 

“We apply our own anti-Semitism filter when we hear something like that. These are guys who have been prejudiced against their whole life because of the color of their skin,” Herman added. “It seemed like the Jews they knew were living a pretty good life compared to them.”  

Through the years they spent on “Compton,” both writers said they developed relationships with the subjects of their film. Ice Cube had heavy input both into the hiring of the writers and the content of the script.

Berloff said she developed a level of trust with Ice Cube over the months she spent doing her research. Herman said that, to this day, he’s not sure he reached it. 

“I got pretty close, but I don’t think I ever felt that they were completely in my corner,” Herman said. “Look, I get it. For very obvious reasons, who am I to be telling their story?”

Because of the color of his skin?

“Yeah. White, gay, Jewish, [I’m] different in every possible way,” Herman said. “But that’s fine. I think maybe that level of tension helped create some real magic that maybe wouldn’t have happened if they had had writers who came from a place just like them.”

Israel trips add hasbara to Oscar swag bags

Israel is in the headlines again, but this time for glitz and glamour rather than politics.

For the first time, the Jewish state is offering free 10-day VIP trips to Israel as one of the gifts in the Oscar “swag bags” given to all Academy Award nominees in the acting and directing categories (as well as to this year’s host, Chris Rock). The trip is one of many luxury items offered to the nominees, at an estimated total value of more than $200,000. Critics are crying foul at the indulgence afforded these already-wealthy, albeit high-profile, recipients.

[Academy sues over $200,000 so-called Oscar gift bags]

“I would say they need to take a marketing course,” Dina Rezvanipour, CEO of 3D PR Marketing, said of the critics. Rezvanipour conceived of the Oscar tradition — now in its 14th year — after Bette Midler once jokingly complained about leaving awards shows empty-handed. Rezvanipour decided to include the Israel tour as a way to bring attention to her client, exploreisrael.com, a New York-based online tourism company. Upon hearing the idea, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism quickly jumped on board to make it a joint venture. Each trip is for the nominee and a guest, and Israel will shell out about $18,000 per couple for first-class flights, stays at five-star hotels and meals at Israel’s best restaurants — a package worth about $55,000.

“There is no better brand ambassador than a celebrity, and the potential benefits to the brands are immense if a celebrity wears their product or visits their hotel,” Rezvanipour said by email. “This isn’t about ‘need.’ Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t need $20 million per film. But that’s what her brand is worth to moviemakers. Similarly, these Oscar nominees certainly don’t need anything for free, but it is fun for them to be introduced to new products since they can’t shop at Sephora like a normal person.”

Celebrity visits to Israel are always a slap in the face to Israel haters and activists in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, who bring out the picket signs, literally and metaphorically, whenever Israel makes its way down the red carpet. Those protestors have had some success in pressuring some artists to back down on performing in Israel, including with Lauryn Hill, Elvis Costello and Santana, but they failed with Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys, all of whom have played concerts in Tel Aviv’s Yarkon Park.

For Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, the motivation is to boost commercial tourism. The Oscar nominees will be able to tailor their trips to suit their personal interests.

“With millions of fans and followers in social media, these [guests] become goodwill ambassadors for Israel, sharing their excitement as they journey through Israel, as well as before and after the trip,” a spokesperson for the Israel Ministry of Tourism said in an interview. “These initiatives, which generate extensive international publicity, are designed to help boost tourism by exposing Israel’s tourism product through the eyes and experiences of the celebrities themselves.”

Yet to anti-Israel activists, Israeli tourism is political, unlike a 15-day walking tour of Japan, another swag bag giveaway, which no one is talking much about. They are accusing Israel of “bribing” celebrities. BDS founder Omar Barghouti went so far as to compare the gifts to the “Hunger Games” trilogy, likening Israel to the “Capitol” oppressing the “Districts” (Palestinians). 

Rezvanipour, for her part, sees only the positive.

“There has been no backlash,” she said. “Nor do I expect any. I think people are more shocked that I have included a Fiera Arouser for Her [a libido booster] than a trip to Israel! 

“Plus I’m a Jew at heart,” said Rezvanipour, who is not Jewish. “And some of my favorite people are Jewish, including Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, so for any Israel haters out there I simply say, ‘Shalom!’” 

Academy sues over $200,000 so-called Oscar gift bags

A “Vampire Breast Lift.” A laser skin-tightening procedure. A 10-day first-class trip to Israel.

Those are a few of the services included in the $200,000 gift bags that one marketing firm has promised for celebrities attending the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 28.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the awards, wants the public to know that it hasn't approved any of those items. In a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Los Angeles, the organization accused Distinctive Assets of promoting the gift bags as official Oscars swag.

“Distinctive Assets uses the Academy's trademarks to raise the profile of its 'gift bags' and falsely create the impression of association, affiliation, connection, sponsorship and/or endorsement,” said the lawsuit, which names the company's founder, Lash Fary, as a defendant.

Neither Distinctive Assets nor a lawyer representing the company immediately responded to a request for comment early on Wednesday.

Gift bags have been a persistent headache over the years for the Academy, which stopped giving gift baskets to presenters and performers in 2007 after the practice came under closer scrutiny by U.S. tax authorities.

Celebrities who receive gifts and free vacations at awards shows are expected to declare them as income and pay the appropriate taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

The lawsuit said Fary was misleading media outlets by promoting the gift bags with slogans like “Everyone Wins Nominee Gift Bags in Honor of the Oscars(R),” adding that the use of the trademark symbol was a deliberate attempt to imply an official connection.

The Academy cited numerous news articles that referred to the gift bags as “official” or as “Oscar Swag Bags,” arguing the coverage shows Fary has engaged in deceptive marketing.

The lawsuit asked a federal judge to prevent Fary from using any Academy trademark and seeks compensation for damages as well as three times the amount of Fary's profits and the academy's legal fees.

And the Oscar for the best popcorn ever goes to…

It's Oscars time, and in addition to dressing for the occasion, we always like to set the table with award-worthy snacks. This year, we plan to honor the movies with their best-loved partner, popcorn.

Of course, because it's the Oscars, it couldn't be just any microwaved popcorn. Last week when I found some dried popcorn being cut off the cob at the farmers' market, I knew it was time to use my newly inspired love for spices to elevate popcorn to a starring role.

First, you must be willing to set aside the iconic melted butter and find the very best extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to dress the hot kernels. EVOO's intense flavor will lend an earthy, grassy, herbal flavor that just belongs with farm-grown popcorn.

Next, your choice of salt is critical to the perfect box of popcorn. It's got to be soft enough to cling to the kernels, but crunchy enough to hold its own on the palate. I found that the moisture of grey sea salt fit the bill perfectly.

Finally, adding variety with ground spices, grated cheeses and even cocoa powder creates an interesting mix of options for movie-loving guests. Any blend of favorite flavors will do, but my winning combination was hot salted popcorn tossed with grated pecorino romano cheese, sprinkled with Aleppo pepper flakes and doused with another healthy drizzle of olive oil.

Old-Fashioned, New-Flavored Popcorn

Serves 4

  • Ingredients
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste

 

Flavoring suggestions:

  • Grated hard or semi-hard cheese
  • Aleppo or Marash chili pepper
  • Cocoa powder mixed with sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Smoked paprika
  • Saffron
  • Freshly ground peppercorns

 

Directions

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 3-quart, deep saucepan. As soon as the oil melts and spreads evenly, add enough kernels to fill one layer on the bottom. Cover and increase heat to high flame. As soon as the corn starts popping, shake rigorously over heat until popping is complete.

2. Immediately dress with olive oil and salt and toss to coat.

3. If you are adding grated cheese, do so immediately after removing from heat to ensure that cheese clings to popcorn.

4. Sprinkle with other seasonings to taste.

What the $55,000 Israel trip for Oscar nominees looks like

Whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins Best Actor at this year’s Academy Awards, he’ll at least take home a free trip to the Holy Land.

As announced last week, the 26 nominees in the top Oscars categories as well as the presenters will get a record-setting $200,000 “goody bag” — with the most valuable item being an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel worth up to $55,000.

The actual cost of the Middle Eastern getaway will vary depending on the traveller — be it “Joy” actress Jennifer Lawrence or “The Big Short” director Adam McKay. Those who redeem the offer before its December expiration date will get to customize 10-day itineraries for themselves and a companion.

What does a $55,000 celebrity trip to Israel look like?

About $25,000 will go toward two first-class round-trip flights, and another $10,000 can be expected to cover fancy hotels, said Sam Gee, the COO of ExploreIsrael.com, which is putting together the trips.

For $1,000 a night, the Oscars elites could afford the sweetest suite at the luxurious Beresheet Hotel in Israel’s Negev. The Villa Deluxe Crater View room has a private balcony and pool with a view of the Ramon Crater, over which the boutique hotel hangs.

That leaves a generous $20,000 for transportation, security and, of course, fine dining — or $2,000 a day.

Dinner for two at Messa, arguably Tel Aviv’s best restaurant — think “shakshuka sashimi” followed by sea bass and lamb chops and washed down with a bottle of Israeli red wine — will only dent the daily budget, at under $200.

It may take a limousine ride under armed guard to Jerusalem’s bustling Machane Yehuda market — where street vendors will happily take some money off an American celebrity’s hands — to max out the budget.

Whence all this money, anyway?

The trip sounds like a brilliant act of PR by the Israeli government. And indeed, Israel’s Tourism Ministry released a statement Monday crediting its New York office with the idea to lure Hollywood’s top talent to the country. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said celebrities will have the opportunity to “experience the country first hand and not through the media,” Haaretz reported.

But Gee told JTA that ExploreIsrael.com, was the real mastermind of the trip, which the brand-new travel company is co-funding and organizing to drum up business.

“Personally, I am Jewish and I do like Israel, but this is a business venture,” he said.

The Tourism Ministry did not respond to attempts to reconcile the two accounts.

The Israel trip and a 15-day walking tour in Japan are the first international travel packages offered in an Oscars goody bag (past gift bags have included domestic travel packages). Some of the other items in the pricey collection of swag include a year’s worth of unlimited Audi car rentals ($45,000), a lifetime supply of Lizora skin creams ($31,200), three private sessions with a celebrity trainer ($1,400) and a $249.99 vaporizer.

Only actors in the main acting and directing categories receive the gifts, along with the presenters. ExploreIsrael.com and the Tourism Ministry just want the celebrities to know: When they get tired of luxury driving, self-beautification and smoking — Israel is waiting.

 

‘Ave Maria’: The Friday night dilemma

Filmmaker Basil Khalil has come up with an astute resolution to the Mideast conflict, based on the proposition that Israeli Jews and Palestinians will cooperate if that’s the only way they can get away from each other.

Khalil, born in Nazareth of a Palestinian father and a British mother, illustrates this dictum in his 15-minute movie “Ave Maria” (Hail Mary), which is among the five finalists for Oscar honors in the live-action short film category.

The opening scene has an Orthodox family driving toward their West Bank settlement, with the burly, bearded Moshe accompanied by his wife, Rachel, and sharp-tongued mother, Esther. They are in a hurry due to delays that Moshe blames on his mother’s incontinence, and Shabbat is about start in just a few minutes.

Distracted, Moshe sideswipes a statue of the Virgin Mary in front of a small convent, knocking her off her pedestal. Living inside the convent are five Carmelite nuns of the Sisters of Mercy who have taken a vow of silence.

A noviate nun is sent outside to investigate the crash. She returns, gesticulating wildly, and in her agitation she breaks her vow of silence to exclaim, “The Jews have violated the Virgin.”

In the meanwhile, it’s Friday evening, and while the nuns own an ancient rotary phone to call for outside assistance, no one can use it: Moshe can not break Shabbat rules by dialing out, and the nuns, of course, cannot speak to anyone.

As the nuns try to figure out how to get rid of their unwanted guests and the Jewish family is desperate to leave and get home, antipathy becomes the mother of invention.

In a lively email exchange, Khalil, 34, reported that initially both potential financial backers and organizers of film festivals refused to touch the project.   

“I got rejected everywhere – everybody thought I was crazy to make a film about nuns and Israeli settlers,” Khalil wrote.

He persevered, and his breakthrough came when, “Ave Maria” was accepted at the prestigious Cannes film festival  and went on to win top prizes at other festivals. During the past seven months alone, the film has been shown at 56 different festivals.

While it is both quirky and funny, Khalil hopes that the film also conveys a message.

“When you grow up as a Palestinian in Israel, you realize that from the moment you are born, you have to take sides – whatever your religion,” he wrote. “You don’t get to choose, and you have to live by these rules without even choosing them. My message is to question the rules that are imposed on you.”

Asked what he would say in his acceptance speech if “Ave Maria” walks off with an Oscar, he first replied that after rehearsing his remarks in the shower for two months, he will probably say, “Hi, Mum, I’m on TV.”

Pressed for a more memorable response, Khalil answered, “I think I might give a speech something along the line of ‘the voice of art is louder than that of the extremists and their bombs, which pitch us against each other.’”

“Ave Maria,” along with other nominated short films, is now playing at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles and the Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana. Throughout February, the film will also open at the Warner Grand Theatre In San Pedro, Town Center in Burbank, Covina Theatre in Covina, Citywalk Stadium in Universal City, Rave 18 in Los Angeles, Century 20-Bella Terra in Huntington Beach and in Laemmle theaters in North Hollywood, Pasadena and Claremont.

‘Son of Saul’: For Claims Conference, Oscar nominee was a big gamble

Set amid a 1944 prisoner uprising at Auschwitz, “Son of Saul” stood out as a long shot when its producers first applied for funding from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The film’s director, Laszlo Nemes, had no experience with feature films; its lead actor hadn’t been on a film set in 15 years; and its script included long, silent and out-of-focus shots.

But the Claims Conference, which negotiates restitution for Nazi victims, ultimately decided to help bankroll the film. It’s a gamble that now seems prescient, as “Son of Saul” is favored to win best foreign language film at the Oscars on Feb. 28.

Worldwide ticket sales for the Golden Globe-winning film are north of $2 million, already exceeding the film’s slim $1.6 million budget.

“People all over the world are realizing we’re facing the last generation of Holocaust survivors, so we’re in a race against time to cling to the experiences of the survivors still amongst us,” Greg Schneider, the Claims Conference’s vice president, told JTA.

Since the 1993 release of Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” which won the Oscar for best picture, representations of the Holocaust have emerged as an important genre in cinema in and beyond the U.S. market. Other award-winning productions,  such as “Life is Beautiful” (1997), “The Pianist” (2002), “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) and last year’s “Woman in Gold,” have followed.

In recent years, many filmmakers from Europe have trained their lenses on the same theme, resulting in such critically acclaimed productions as “Phoenix” (Germany, 2014), “Ida” (Poland, 2013), “Suskind” (The Netherlands, 2012) and “Sarah’s Key” (France, 2010).

The Claims Conference, which since 2008 has devoted a small portion of its budget to funding educational Holocaust films, provided about $50,000 of the “Son of Saul” budget. But even that relatively small contribution was subject to “serious internal debate,” Schneider said.

“It was a risk that paid off,” he said.

The Claims Conference receives funding requests for about 50 films a year. One factor that helped clinch the deal with Nemes was the quality of a short Holocaust film, “With a Little Patience,” that he had made back in 2007. Another factor was the director’s meticulous attention to historical accuracy, as demonstrated by the “Son of Saul” script.

While fictional, the plot uses an accurate backdrop in telling the story of Saul Auslander, a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jews whom the Germans forced to work in the gas chambers. In the film, an unemotional Auslander is seen herding transport after transport of his brethren to their deaths before becoming unhinged at the sight of a Nazi doctor suffocating a boy of 14 who had somehow survived the poison. Oblivious to the rebellion being planned around him, Auslander abuses the access that his gruesome job affords him in an attempt to bury the teenager.

“Auslander’s story is fictional, the rest is accurate,” Schneider told JTA last week in Berlin, where the Claims Conference organized the film’s premiere in Germany. (The Sonderkommando at Auschwitz did stage a rebellion in October  1944. Separately, two teenagers were murdered after surviving the gas chambers.)

Whereas straightforward filming of an Auschwitz-Birkenau set would have yielded “a pornography of death,” as the lead actor, Geza Rohrig, said, the camera focuses on the living Sonderkommando and scenery, weaving the carnage around them into an out-of-focus but omnipresent background.

Though the Claims Conference provided less than 4 percent of the total production cost of “Son of Saul,” its contribution “came in the final stages of production when we were really lacking money,” “Son of Saul” producer Gabor Sipos said.

Since 2008, the Claims Conference has spent a total of $2.25 million, or an average of $282,000 a year, to fund educational Holocaust films. The organization’s total annual budget has ranged from $700 million to $870 million, with the vast majority going toward improving the quality of life for Holocaust survivors.

Of the dozens of films funded by the Claims Conference, “Son of Saul” is “by far the most successful in terms of return on investment,” Schneider said. It is the first film funded by the organization that has won a Golden Globe or been nominated for an Oscar. Among others that have received funding from the Claims Conference are the award-winning “Numbered” (2012)  and “The Decent One” (2014).

The remainder of the budget for “Son of Saul” came almost entirely from the Hungarian National Film Fund. Agnes Havas, the Hungarian fund’s CEO, told the Budapest Business Journal that the film’s commercial appeal makes it “the most successful project supported by the film fund.” “Son of Saul” is also Hungary’s first Oscars nominee since 1988.

But the funding from Hungary is also exposing “Son of Saul” to criticism by those opposed to the right-wing policies of the country’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, whose government was recently accused of downplaying Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust and relegating all the blame to Germany.

“I wonder if getting money from the Hungarian state is a problem for you, or you just don’t mind,” one critical viewer, who accused the government of anti-Semitism, said at a post-screening Q&A.

In replying, Sipos said the filmmakers were “proud of the film fund,” which they “hope has nothing to do with [the policies of] Hungarian government.”

He noted that while requests for funding “Son of Saul” were “rejected in countries that are seen to be less anti-Semitic,” including France, Germany and Israel, “the Hungarian film fund decided to support us, meaning this film would not have existed if not for their help.”

‘Son of Saul’ nominated for best foreign language Oscar

The Hungarian Holocaust film “Son of Saul” was nominated for the best foreign film Academy Award.

The announcement was made early Thursday morning in a ceremony in Los Angeles.

“Son of Saul,” which tells the story of a Jewish concentration camp inmate forced to help cremate his fellow prisoners, won the Golden Globe on Sunday for best foreign language film.

Other Jewish Oscar nominees include Steven Spielberg, producer and director of “Bridge of Spies,” which made the shortlist for best picture. The film, which tells the story of a Cold War prisoner exchange, is based on a screenplay by filmmaker brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

Also in the running is Israel-born super producer Arnon Milchan, whose Leonardo di Caprio thriller “The Revenant” is in contention for best picture.

Jennifer Jason Leigh was nominated as best supporting actress for her role in the “The Hateful Eight,” about eight strangers seeking refuge from a blizzard during the American Civil War.

The documentary “Amy,” about the British Jewish singer Amy Winehouse,” was nominated for best documentary.

“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” about the director of the epic Holocaust documentary “Shoah,” was nominated for best documentary short.

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony will be held Feb. 28 in Los Angeles.