LOS ANGELES — Iran’s state television on Monday described the country’s Academy Award win for best foreign-language film as a victory over Israel, in a gesture of official approval of an Iranian movie industry criticized by hardliners.
The official reaction to the Oscar win by A Separation in Sunday’s awards ceremony was cast in nationalist terms and in the light of Iran’s confrontation with its arch-foe, which also had a film, Footnote, competing for the foreign-language Oscar. The broadcast said the award won by A Separation succeeded in “leaving behind” a film from the “Zionist regime.” It emphasized that the film won several Iranian awards in 2011, too. To portray a film award as a nationalist triumph is a departure for the state media.
Iran has an extensive movie industry, and the country’s films have won wide international acclaim, even as other sectors of the economy face sanctions and other forms of pressure over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program.
Meanwhile, the Israeli and Iranian filmmakers sat together on a panel discussion.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had invited the five directors vying for the Oscar in the best foreign-language film category to discuss their craft at a symposium.
In light of Tehran’s policy of no contact between its citizens and Israelis, there was some quiet concern that an incident might mar the occasion. Last week, an Iranian soccer team pulled out of a match with a Serbian team because the latter was coached by an Israeli, Avram Grant.
But before a full house at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Saturday, the directors faced the audience in a single row, flanking Mark Johnson, chair of the selection committee.
The directors were seated by the alphabetical order of their respective film titles: Bullhead by Belgium’s Michael Roskam; Footnote by Israel’s Joseph Cedar; In Darkness by Poland’s Agnieszka Holland Monsieur Lazhar by Canada’s Philippe Falardeau; and A Separation by Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, who was accompanied by a translator.
During the two-hour panel discussion, Cedar and Farhadi did not speak to each other directly, but joined their colleagues in chuckling at each other’s jokes and politely applauding their respective remarks.
The same applied when Holland discussed her film about a dozen Jews hiding in underground sewers during the Nazi occupation of Poland, a theme directly contradicting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s insistence that the Holocaust never happened.
All of the panellists used hand-held microphones except for Cedar, whose stationery mike was fastened to the armrest of his chair, because of the Jewish Sabbath. The symposium is always held on the Saturday preceding the Sunday Academy Awards and Cedar, who is a Shabbat observer, walked two miles from his hotel to the theatre.
In 2007, when Cedar’s war film Beaufort also was among the five finalists, he consulted his rabbi and was told that he could not use a mike during the symposium. As a result, only those in the first few rows could hear his remarks. This time Cedar consulted a different authority, who advised that the director could speak into a mike, as long as he did not actually hold it in his hand.
With files from Ha’aretz