Oscars: Palestine Selects ‘Eyes of a Thief’ for Foreign-Language Category

Eyes of a Thief - H 2014
Courtesy of Ustura Films

Eyes of a Thief - H 2014

The West Bank thriller will be considered for the shortlist of nominees at next year's Academy Awards

Palestine has selected Eyes of a Thief, the second feature by Najwa Najjar, as its Oscar contender in the best foreign-language film category.

The film, a psychological thriller set in the West Bank and based on real events, recently had its world premiere in Ramallah at the Ramallah Cultural Palace to a packed audience of 850, well above the venue's capacity of 700, and was on Thursday officially picked by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture for Oscar consideration.

It stars Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga as a former prisoner who returns to his hometown with a dark secret after serving 10 years in an Israeli jail. The story moves between 2002, the height of the second Palestinian uprising and Israeli military incursions, and the present.

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"The nomination of Eyes of a Thief to the Oscars is about getting a Palestinian narrative reflecting the human story of a sensitive subject at the core of [the] Palestinian/Israeli conflict out there," Najjar told The Hollywood Reporter, also highlighting the "incredible difficulties in making a film shot completely in the Palestinian Territories."

Speaking to THR in Cannes, where Eyes of a Thief was looking for international sales, Najjar said that getting the permission for Abol Naga to get into the West Bank proved to be one of the biggest challenges and that she only found out he could cross the border from Jordan days before production began. “We really didn’t know if he would make it,” she said, adding that there were daily military incursions by Israel into the city of Nablus, where much of the shoot took place.

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Eyes of a Thief follows on the heels of Omar, which was Palestine’s entry to the Academy Awards last year and made it through to the official nomination selection, losing out in the end to Italy’s The Great Beauty. Its director, Hany Abu-Assad, also received a nomination for his previous feature, 2006’s Paradise Now, which won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film.

Najjar’s first feature, 2008’s tense family drama Pomegranates and Myrrh, had its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival, going on to pick up a raft of awards from festivals around the world.