MENA TO THE OSCARS! – Northern Africa and Middle East Contenders for 2021 Oscars

“African stories… can stand their ground on the international stage. True, authentic African stories are best told from within the African context because they are such a deeply ingrained part of the culture.”Yaw Dwomoh, Ghanaian brand storyteller.

I hope you have been inspired by the submissions from Sub-Saharan Africa for the 2021 Oscars shared here. In this instalment are the contenders from Northern Africa and the Middle East for Best International Feature Film at the 2021 Oscars, with links to the trailers and official film websites.

Northern Africa contenders

  1. The Man Who Sold His Skin, Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, Tunisia.

Set against the backdrop of the international art market, this follows a Syrian refugee who enters into a Faustian agreement with a celebrity avant-garde artist to gain safe passage to Europe. The film has been well received at the film festival circuit, winning many awards. Watch the trailer here.

The film revolves around a thief on a mission, after a religious shrine is built over his buried loot! Read a review of the film here, and watch the trailer here.

This historical, ambitious drama explores the events around the 1945 Setif and Guelma massacre – an Algerian uprising that was brutally supressed by French colonial authorities, helping sow the seeds for the country’s 1954-62 War of Independence. More on the film here, and watch the trailer here.

Interweaving the hopes and dreams of three representative Egyptian characters – a son who wants to pursue a singing career against his father’s will, a Christian woman in love with a Muslim man, and a newly-wed personal trainer who must compromise his principles for the chance to own a gym – the film generates its title from the sentence, “When we’re born, we each have a life path, which is then influenced by how we are raised and the beliefs ingrained in us.” Watch the trailer here.

Middle East contenders

  1. Gaza Mon Amour, Directed by Tarzan and Arab Nasser, Palestine.

Gaza, today. Sixty-year-old fisherman Issa is secretly in love with Siham, a woman who works at the market with her daughter. When he discovers an ancient phallic statue of Apollo in his fishing nets, Issa hides it, not knowing what to do with this mysterious and potent treasure. Yet deep inside, he feels that this discovery will change his life forever. Strangely, his confidence starts to grow and eventually he decides to approach Siham. The film highlights the complications and daily struggles in the Gaza Strip. Watch a Q&A with the directors here, and the trailer here.

The story follows a Palestinian man isolated from his family by Israel’s separation wall. There are 200 meters and an unobstructed view between the balcony of Mustafa’s West Bank home near the city of Tulkarem and that of the apartment that his wife and three children share on the Israeli side of the border wall. It is a gap that is bridged by phone calls, occasional visits, and a great deal of love. But, as Mustafa discovers when his son has an accident, the wall is not the only barrier to crossing that short distance. In a road movie which deftly balances domestic drama and thriller elements, Mustafa, who temporarily lacks the necessary permit, must smuggle himself across to his family. Watch the trailer here.

  • Asia, Directed by Ruthy Pribar, Israel.

This story revolves around a young mother and teenage daughter who are brought together as the daughter battles with a terminal illness. This is the only film to also be included in the British Academy Film Awards, and one I was able to watch as a Bafta member. Watch the trailer here.

  • Scales, Shahad Ameen, Saudi Arabia.

This allegorical, anti-patriarchal tale revolves around a strong-willed girl growing up in a poor fishing community governed by a dark tradition in which every family must give one daughter to the mermaids living in its waters. However, she does not surrender to this fate and fights for a place within her village, and challenges the persecution of the mermaids. The film has won several festival awards. Watch the trailer here.

12-year-old Ali and his three friends do small jobs and petty crimes to survive and support their families. In a timely turn of events, Ali is entrusted to find a hidden underground treasure. However, to gain access to the tunnel where the treasure is buried, Ali and his gang first have to enrol at the nearby Sun School, a charitable institution that tries to educate street kids and child laborers. The film is dedicated to “the 152 million children forced into child labour”. Watch the trailer here.

  • Broken Keys, Directed by Jimmy Keyrouz, Lebanon.

Set in 2014, in a neighbourhood that has fallen under the control of ISIS, this tells the story of a young musician who struggles to rebuild his piano, which has been destroyed by terrorists in a place where music has also been banned. Watch a Q&A with the director, along with the trailer, here.

About Parminder Vir OBE
Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Africa’s leading philanthropic organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.

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