2 Israeli Documentaries Shortlisted for Oscar

In this photo from Feb. 17, 2012, a protestor waves a Palestinian flag in front of Israeli troops during a protest against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah. A film made by Bilin resident and amateur filmmaker Emad Burnat has been shortlisted for an Oscar.
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"We're winning all the battles," said Ami Ayalon, Shin Bet chief from 1996 to 2000, "And we're losing the war."

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Moreh said he wanted his film to change the understanding of the Mideast conflict by featuring the people whose job it was to manage it.

"They are responsible for targeted assassinations, for torture, for getting information," Moreh said in an interview. The criticism they voice "didn't come from the leftists, it came from the heart of the defense establishment. If they say such things, then, OK, there must be something to it."

The other film shortlisted for an Oscar, "5 Broken Cameras," features footage shot by Palestinian farmer and amateur filmmaker Emad Burnat, who bought a camera to film home videos but ended up documenting six years of family life on the backdrop of weekly Palestinian demonstrations against the construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier through his village of Bilin.

Those demonstrations started the same week his son was born. His film shows his son's birthday parties along with the young boy's developing awareness of the political realities he was born into.

One by one, Burnat's cameras were damaged by an Israeli army tear gas canister, hit by rubber bullets, thrown to the ground by an angry Jewish settler, and smashed in a tractor accident. When his cameras broke, he suffered serious injuries.

"The camera was always my friend," said Burnat, who co-directed the film with an Israeli, Guy Davidi. "I was connected to the camera, the camera was connected to me."

Both films were produced with help from international funds, but also with significant support from the Israeli government. Many governments, particularly in Europe, provide funding to their local film industries.

The Israeli connection caused difficulties for Burnat's movie. Film festivals in Dubai, Qatar and Egypt refused to screen his film, Burnat said. They offered no explanation, he said, but films bankrolled by Israel are generally not shown in Arab countries because of a longstanding Arab cultural boycott of Israeli cinema.

Israel has five main film funds that hand out funding to a pool of applicants. Israeli cinema professionals choose which movies get funded, not politicians.

Even so, film executives say they've felt governmental attempts to exert influence on their artistic independence.

One said local producers have felt pressured to "make films that show Israel in a sweeter light." The executive spoke anonymously because his films depend on government funding.

Meir Bardugo, a spokesman for Culture Minister Limor Livnat, said the minister believes that "Israeli cinema doesn't have to be anti-Israeli," but denied that she intervenes in the content of Israeli films. "If Livnat would interfere, these two films wouldn't get to the Oscars," Bardugo said.

Moreh said he and his colleagues are committed to critical and compelling storytelling.

"Our crazy reality in this region gives us great material," Moreh said. "(Israeli) cinema is alive, breathing, kicking."

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