2016 Foreign Oscar Guide: Africa and Middle East Films Showcase Globalized Perspectives

Welcome to The Awards Circuit’s 2016 Foreign Oscar Guide. This weekly series will shine a spotlight on this year’s Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film, looking at all 85 submitted films and their interesting trends and regional perspectives.

Back in 2006, the Academy implemented a significant rule change that no longer required films in the Foreign Language category to be in the language of their submitting country. In an increasingly globalized industry it was seen as a necessary evolutionary step, with subsequent nominees like “Mustang” and 2012 winner “Amour” taking advantage. And indeed, this year’s crop of films from Africa and the Middle East region reflect this global perspective. Among them are co-productions with countries as far afield as Norway and France, while Israel achieved a historic milestone with their submission. As the following 12 films show, African and Middle Eastern cinema is ready for the world stage.

The lone entry for Sub-Saharan Africa this year is 2-time nominee South Africa, represented by Daryne Joshua’s “Call Me Thief“. This Afrikaans-language (a derivative of Dutch) crime drama is based on the life of the screenwriter John W. Fredericks, telling the uplifting story of a disadvantaged young man who lands in jail and realizes his skills as a storyteller. Further north, another crime drama focuses on the effects of poverty. In Said Khallaf’s “A Mile in My Shoes” a suffering man decides to retaliate against society by becoming a criminal on the streets of Casablanca.

A scene from "Clash"
A scene from “Clash”

Rounding out the North African submissions are a pair of films exploring political themes. From Egypt, Mohamed Diab’s “Clash” has been getting great word of mouth following its Cannes premiere and subsequent festival screenings. Set entirely within the confines of a police truck, this inventive film depicts the conflicting idealogies of a group of detainees from varying backgrounds in the aftermath of the country’s 2013 coup d’état. Meanwhile, Algeria’s Lotfi Bouchouchi will hope to emulate his acclaimed compatriot Rachid Bouchareb (a 3-time nominee in this category) with “The Well“, yet another period drama exploring French-Algerian relations.

Mai Masri
Mai Masri

From a filmmaking standpoint, French interests were also involved in Jordan’s submission “3000 Nights“. The European nation is credited alongside 5 other countries (including Jordan) as providing support for this drama directed by Mai Masri. The film centers around a falsely accused Palestinian woman who must protect herself and her newborn son in an Israeli prison. Likewise the other women-centric film from the region (“Sandstorm“) is set in Israel, telling the story of two Bedouin women who struggle to change their society’s traditions. Directed by Elite Zexer, the film won the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and is the first all-Arabic submission from Israel.

Also making an impact on the festival circuit were Iraq’s “El clásico” and Lebanon’s “Very Big Shot“. The former, a Norway-Iraq co-production about two Kurdish little people determined to meet soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, won Best Cinematography and a Special Jury Mention at the Tribeca Film Festival. Meanwhile, “Very Big Shot” caught the attention of Netflix at a Cannes screening, making it the first Arabic film to be acquired by the streaming service.

Finally, Turkey will hope to get their first nomination with Mustafa Kara’s “Cold of Kalandar“. This realist drama depicts the daily life of a family living in a mountain village near the Black Sea.

These films are joined by the previously discussed “Barakah Meets Barakah“, “The Idol” and “The Salesman“.

Contenders to watch: “The Salesman”, “Clash” and “The Idol”

Which of these African/Middle Eastern films are you rooting for? Let us know in the comments below.