Israel has picked Elite Zexer's feature directorial debut Sand Storm, an Arabic-speaking desert-set family drama, as its submission for the Oscars in the best foreign-language film category.
The film won six Ophir Awards, awarded by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television, including supporting actress honors for Ruba Blal-Asfour, director honors for Zexer and the all-important best film honor, in a ceremony Thursday in the city of Ashdod.
The moment was upstaged, however, by political uproar as Minister of Culture & Sport Miri Regev left the theater in silent protest during a musical number by Arab-Israeli rapper Tamer Nafar, whose lyrics sampled the work of controversial Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Upon returning to present the best film category, Regev was met with loud booing as dozens exited the theater in response to her earlier actions.
Following Zexer's win at the First Look Work-In-Progress Competition in Locarno last year, Sand Storm had its official world premiere at January's Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic section. The film's critical acclaim continued at such festival circuit stops as the Berlinale and TIFF, with Kino Lorber picking up North American rights in June.
Sand Storm will be released stateside Wednesday at New York's Film Forum and expand throughout the coming weeks.
This is Israel's 49th submission for the best foreign-language film category, with a total of 10 films earning a nomination over the years, the last of which was Joseph Cedar's Footnote in 2012. Israel has never won the foreign-language Oscar.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will announce its 2017 shortlist of foreign-language film nominees on Jan. 17. The final five nominees will be announced Jan. 24. The Oscars will be held Feb. 26.