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Middle Eastern filmmakers celebrate historic Oscar nominations

PARIS :A Lebanese and a Syrian film director both made cinema history this week when their films became the first ever from their home countries to be nominated for Oscars.

Ziad Doueiri’s Lebanese drama “The Insult,” was nominated for best foreign language film, while Syrian Firas Fayyad’s “Last Men in Aleppo,” which focuses on the work of the White Helmets volunteer rescuers, was nominated for best documentary.

“The Insult,” set in Beirut, is about a verbal slanging match between two individuals that leads to a highly publicized trial highlighting the sectarian tensions simmering in Lebanese society.

“It was such good news when we got it, because this is the first time Lebanon arrives to the Oscar and you know you offer a little bit of hope,” Doueiri told Reuters. “It’s like winning a medal, it’s like going to the Olympics and your team for the first time wins the bronze medal or the silver medal.”

The film is the first from Lebanon to be nominated for an Oscar since the small Mediterranean country began submitting movies for consideration in 1978.

“The Insult” has been screened in Lebanon despite a boycott campaign prompted by the fact that Doueri made a previous film, “The Attack,” in Israel, with which his country remains in a technical state of war.

Doueiri was subsequently arrested and questioned by a military court, but was not charged with any offence.

The other nominees for best foreign language film include “A Fantastic Woman” from Germany, “Loveless” from Russia, “On Body and Soul” from Hungary and “The Square” from Sweden.

Fayyad, whose documentary follow the White Helmets group in a besieged Syrian city, told Reuters that he hoped the recognition would inspire others in his war-torn country.

“Well, it’s really great. I’m proud about that. It opens the road for other filmmakers and artists to think that there’s nothing impossible, especially in a time (when) your country is destroyed, your resources are less, and the people who could stand with you are less,” he said, speaking in English.

Syria first submitted a film for Oscar consideration last year, to no avail. “Last Men in Aleppo” faces competition from “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” “Faces Places,” “Icarus,” and “Strong Island.”

Another film about the White Helmets, eponymously titled, won the Oscar for documentary short film in 2017. 

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