Israel walked away from the Oscars empty handed again this year after the Swedish/British film "Searching for Sugar Man" took home the Academy Award for best documentary.
Two Israeli documentaries were nominated in the documentary category this year: "The Gatekeepers," a documentary that includes interviews with six former heads of Israel's internal security agency the Shin Bet, and "5 Broken Cameras," a joint Israeli-Palestinian project that documents a Palestinian village and how its denizens cope with the burgeoning Jewish settlement activity surrounding it.
Combing in-depth interviews with six former Shin Bet chiefs, archival footage and animated segments, Dror Moreh's "The Gatekeepers" examines Israel's secret internal security service from the Six-Day War in 1967 to the present. Several viewers of the film have been surprised at the resounding liberalness of the Shin Bet heads, especially with regard to finding a peaceful solution with the Palestinians even if it means negotiating with terrorist groups.
While "The Gatekeepers" explores the workings of Israel's intricate security apparatus from the top-down, "5 Broken Cameras" is the personal story of a man, his family and his village's unavoidable transformations following the construction of a new Israeli West Bank settlement, Modiin Illit, nearby. The film follows Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat, who co-directed the movie with Israeli Guy Davidi, as inhabitants of Bil'in deploy different, and sometimes eccentric, protest methods to demonstrate against the separation barrier Israel is constructing around the village. Burnat ends up chronicling years of struggle, including a weekly protest movement, in a film that is punctuated by the destruction of five of his cameras.
Israel has enjoyed a healthy dose of Oscar nods over the last decade, including best foreign language film nominations for Joseph Cedar's drama "Footnote" (2012), the Jaffa-based drama "Ajami" (2009) and the animated critique of the first Lebanon war, "Waltz with Bashir" (2008). Despite these three nominations, no Israeli film has won an Oscar yet.
Not all Israeli lawmakers were thrilled with Israel's Oscar contender "5 Broken Cameras," which is highly critical of Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank. MK Naftali Bennett, head of Habayit Hayehudi, responded Monday to the news that Burnat's film failed to win an Oscar.
"The anti-Israeli Israel film '5 Broken Cameras' didn't win an Oscar. I didn't shed a tear," he wrote on his Facebook page.
In contrast, far-right Likud MK Danny Danon had said that a critical film like "5 Broken Cameras," which was co-funded by the Israeli and French film funds, relays a positive message about the vibrancy of Israeli democracy, and encouraged its nomination in the world's most widely viewed film awards ceremony.
"I think there will be groups who are against Israel no matter what," Danon said. "This is one example of the price of keeping a strong democracy. We do not interfere in the content of the movies that are being produced in Israel."