Arab Films have made huge inroads at the Oscars over the last decade. From heartbreaking documentaries to innovative shorts, here are ten of the best Arab films which have earned an Academy award nomination in the last decade.
Capernaum, Best Foreign Language Film, 2019
GQ Middle East’s Woman of the Year, Nadine Labaki, was Oscar nominated for her look at life for children on the streets of Beirut. Tipped for Best Foreign language Film at the 2019 awards, Capernaum eventually lost out to Roma. Still, it went on to become the highest grossing Arabic and Middle Eastern film of all time.
Telling the story of Zain, a 12-year-old boy who runs away from home and is imprisoned for a crime before suing his parents in protest of the life they gave him, it’s not an easy watch.
As well as the Oscar nomination it was also listed at for the Palme D’Or, Baftas and eventually won the Cannes Jury Prize.
The White Helmets, Documentary (Short Subject), 2017
Technically a British film, and directed by Orlando von Eisendel, The White Helmets was nominated and won the Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the 2017 awards.
It follows three members of Syria’s Civil Defense from their training in Turkey, through to their deployment in Aleppo and across Syria.
Shortly after The White Helmets won the award it was announced that George Clooney was in talks to make a feature film based on the documentary.
For Sama, Documentary Feature, 2020
For Sama was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar at the 2020 Academy awards.
Made by Syrian director Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts, the documentary follows al-Kateab over five years, living through the uprising in Aleppo. Over the course of the film she falls in love and gives birth, all while the conflict rages around her.
Al-Kateab began as a ‘citizen’ journalist, reporting from inside Aleppo for the UK’s Channel 4 news. Her Inside Aleppo reports won her an Emmy, but the film is a tribute to her daughter, who was raised in the city.
Although it missed out on the Oscar, For Sama did win the Best Documentary BAFTA
Last Men In Aleppo, Documentary Feature, 2018
The first of two films on this list from Feras Fayyad, Last Men In Aleppo was nominated at the 2018 Academy Awards for Best Documentary Feature.
Like The White Helmets, the film follows the work of the White Helmets, an internationally recognized humanitarian organisation made up of ordinary people. The first on scene at military attacks to offer assistance and save lives, their work becomes increasingly dangerous during the fight for the city of Aleppo.
Focusing on three of the White Helmets’ founders, we watch as they wrestle with the decision to stay and help or flee to safety.
The film eventually won the Documentary Prize at 2017’s Sundance Film Festival.
The Cave, Documentary (Feature), 2020
Nominated for Documentary (Feature), at the 2020 Oscars, The Cave is set in Ghouta, and follows Amani Ballour’s life as a doctor living and treating patients with her female colleagues. Forced to work in a makeshift hospital situated in a cave, while living through bombings and systemic sexism in war-ridden Syria, it was compelling viewing.
This is director Feras Fayyad’s second ‘Best Documentary’ nomination following 2017’s Last Men in Aleppo. That won People’s Choice Award for Documentaries at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, as well as receiving an Oscar nomination, too.
Nefta Football Club, Short Film (live action), 2020
Nefta Football Club was nominated for an Oscar in 2020 for Short Film (live action). The short film examines the naïveté of youth, as two brothers, stumble upon a headphone-wearing donkey carrying bags of white powder, and take him with them to their village. Little do they know, the donkey is bait for a drug-deal.
As well as an Oscar nomination, the light-hearted comedy also received the Audience Award at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and is director Yves Piat’s first Academy Award nomination.
Brotherhood, Short Film (Live Action), 2020
Director Meryam Joobeur’s film about the return of a son to his family in Tunisia was also nominated for Best Short (Live Action) at the 2020 Academy Awards. This nomination makes her the first female Tunisian to be nominated for an Oscar.
Set in rural Tunisia, Mohammed fears his estranged son has joined ISIS when he comes home radicalised and married to a Syrian who wears a Niqab. Brotherhood discusses the fragility of human nature as it navigates the complexity of family reunions.
As well as the Oscar nod is also received Best Canadian Short Film at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
Omar, Best Foreign Language Film, 2014
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Oscars, Omar is directed by Hany Abu-Assad.
The titular Omar is a Palestinian baker who is arrested after an Israeli soldier is killed. Omar then turns informant on his friends, and the film deals with his motives and the subsequent fall-out.
Omar eventually lost out to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty
Theeb, Best Foreign Language Film 2016
A co-production between Jordan, The United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom, Theeb has been described as a Bedouin Western and a coming of age story.
Set in Wadi Rum, during World War One, Theeb, a young man, must learn to survive in the desert, negotiating soldiers on both sides.
Up for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Oscars, it became the first Jordanian film ever to receive a nomination at the Academy Awards.
The Insult, Best Foreign Language Film, 2018
The first Lebanese film to be nominated for an Oscar (Best Foreign Language Film) Ziad Douieri’s story of a petty argument that escalates to a full-blown legal battle is set in Beirut.
Toni, a Lebanese Christian and Yasser, a Palestinian refugee, come to blows after an argument and the case garners national legal attention. After it is dismissed in court, the ramifications of the argument, and the court case, spill out into the men’s everyday lives.