In February 2019 the Israeli director Guy Nattiv won an Academy Award for best live-action short for his film ‘Skin’. Nattiv is one of very few Israelis to have won an Oscar, the last time an Israeli director won an Oscar was in 1978, when Moshe Mizrachi won the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film for his film ‘Madame Rosa’.
However, while not many Israelis or Israeli films have won Oscars, Israeli films have been nominated fourteen times since 1964, making Israel one of the top 10 most nominated countries of all time. If you are preparing for your gap year in Israel, then you could do so by watching some of these hugely successful Israeli films.
One of the first Israeli films to be nominated was ‘Sallah’ in 1964. The famous Israeli director and satirist Ephraim Kishon directed it, and it stars Chaim Topol of ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ fame. The film follows the antics of a man trying to make enough money to leave the transit camp where he has been placed. At times hilarious, the film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, and it was also selected to open and close the Berlin Film Festival. It was the first Israeli film to be nominated for the Academy Award of Best Foreign Language Film, but ultimately lost.
More recent was the film ‘Beaufort’. Released in 2007, it tells the story of an IDF unit posted to Lebanon’s Beaufort Castle at the end of the 18-year conflict. The film was criticised as a number of its actors had not served in the IDF. However, it is one of the most successful Israeli films ever made, and it ended a period of 24 years without any Israeli Oscar nominations.
There have been a few controversial Israeli films nominated for Oscars. For instance, ‘5 Broken Cameras’ was nominated for Best Documentary Feature in 2013. Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Dacidi directed it. It is a first-hand account from the perspective of five video cameras that were filming protests and army operations relating to the construction of the security wall in the village of Bil’in. The film received its name as all five of the cameras ended up damaged.
Slightly less controversial was the film ‘The Gatekeepers’, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary after receiving worldwide attention due to its interviews with members of the Shin Bet. While the film was praised for its portrayal of Israeli democracy, it was also criticised for being too critical of Israel in regards to the treatment of Palestinians.
A lighter film was ‘Aya’, nominated for Best Short Film at the 2015 Oscars. It tells the story of a woman who is mistaken for a private driver at the airport. Rather than correct the mistake, she decides to seize the opportunity for an adventure and agrees to drive the man to Jerusalem. It was described by six-time Academy Award winning producer Arthur Cohn as a “great artistic achievement of sensitivity in every regard, which makes this film so extraordinary”.
These are just five of the fourteen films nominated, and all of them are worth watching. If you want to immerse yourself in a bit of Israeli culture, then seeking out these films is a great way to do so.