On Sunday, the films "A Separation" and "Footnote" will compete against one another in the Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards. Though the films are only two of the five nominated, the event is significant -- it marks the first time Iranian and Israeli filmmakers will square off at the most watched award ceremony in the world.
Israeli and Iranian political relations are becoming increasingly fraught, but there is no indication that these issues will manifest themselves at the Oscar ceremony. The writer and director of "A Separation," Asghar Farhadi, has not previously commented on Joseph Cedar, the Israeli director of "Footnote," and Cedar has repeatedly praised "A Separation" in interviews, calling it one his favorite films of last year.
Still, tensions between the two countries have been palpable at other major competitions in recent years. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the Iranian swimmer Mohammed Alirezaei made headlines when he pulled out of two separate Breaststroke heats against Gal Nevo, an Israeli swimmer, citing illness.
Alirezaei said the decision had nothing to do with Nevo's nationality, yet the swimmer went on to make similar moves in 2010 and in July of 2011, avoiding championship swimming events with Israeli participants.
In September, Iranian wrestlers would not shake hands with Israeli competitors at an international wrestling meet in Istanbul, and in October the grandmaster Iranian chess player Ehsan Ghaeum Maghami was expelled from the Corsica Masters, a major international chess tournament, when he would not compete against an Israeli player.
But perhaps the film world offers a different story. Nobody involved with "A Separation" or "Footnote" was available for comment, but both Cedar and Farhadi have stated separately that they didn't set out to make political statements with their films, or encourage any specific message. Cedar recently told Tikkun Magazine that he loved having the chance to be "politically relevant," but hoped he succeeded in doing that "indirectly," rather than bashing people over the head.
Similarly, Farhadi said he has no desire to "introduce" Western audiences to one version of Iranian society, and feels no responsibility toward the restrictive Iranian government when he makes his films. "I only feel one responsibility in my job," he told The Huffington Post in January, "to make the film that I like."
The Iranian government had briefly banned Farhadi from making "A Separation" in late 2010 when, in an acceptance speech, he'd expressed sadness over the exile of another Iranian filmmaker. The ban was lifted a month later when Farhadi apologized to The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance.
In that same January interview with HuffPost, after "A Separation" won the Golden Globe award, Farhadi said there are misconceptions about film censorship in Iran. The government officials aren't all the same, he said. "Some of them relate to the film, some of them like it, some of them dislike it, some of them don't care either way."
It's likely that Sunday's Oscar ceremony will prove one of the first harmonious -- and perhaps friendly -- competitions between the two feuding countries. Cedar told the Jerusalem Post that he'd actually met Farhadi in the past, and was looking forward to Sunday.
“Putting aside all of these geopolitical sides," he said, "[A Separation] is a film that really raises the level of the whole competition."
Watch the trailers for "A Separation" and "Footnote" below:
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