By Jordan Riefe
BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - Nominees for the best foreign language film Oscar gathered on Saturday for an annual symposium to discuss their films, but a cloud of global politics loomed over the event in which Iranian and Israeli filmmakers both took part.
One day earlier in Los Angeles, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose divorce drama "A Separation" is an Oscar nominee, missed an award-related event saying he was ill, prompting reports in the Israeli media that he might be avoiding them and the director of Israel's nominee, "Footnote."
For Saturday's Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences event, Farhadi did not pose for news photographers outside - although his actors did - and during the symposium, he and "Footnote" maker Joseph Cedar sat at opposite ends of the panel.
Afterward, he was whisked away before reporters could talk to him and taken to another event, the Independent Spirit Awards, where "A Separation" won best international movie. But Farhadi appeared only onstage and not in a backstage press room.
The Iranian government has treated some of its country's filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi harshly in recent years. Farhadi has said in past interviews he was not censored in making his movie, and it is impossible to know whether he feels government pressure now. But his fellow filmmakers said they understood his dilemma in meeting with the western media.
"If he (Farhadi) doesn't want to talk to the press, I can appreciate that," Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, whose "Monsieur Lazhar" also is nominated, told Reuters. "I can say a lot of stupid things to the press and I won't get in trouble for that back home. That's not his case."
Cedar declined comment when approached by Reuters to ask whether he and Farhadi had a chance to meet and talk about their respective Oscar-nominated movies.
HUMANITY, NOT POLITICS
For weeks in interviews leading up to the Academy Awards, both filmmakers have stressed that their movies are about families and human issues - not politics - and at Saturday's symposium, they continued to focus on cinema over politics.
Farhadi's "A Separation," which has won numerous awards this year, opens with a couple seeking a divorce being dismissed by a judge who tells them their problems are too small. As the movie plays out, many people become involved in their private affair.
"The problem with smaller problems is that you can't really see them," Farhadi told a packed house. "The big problems are so big that at least you can see it and identify it."
Cedar found inspiration for "Footnote," about an estranged father and son relationship, in his own life. The director told the audience he remembered receiving a call from the Italian embassy in Jerusalem saying they would like to present him with an award honoring the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding.
But over time, he came to suspect the award was instead intended for his father, a prominent bio-chemist, and from that experience came "Footnote," in which a similar mix up occurs.
Likewise, Belgian filmmaker Michael Roskam drew from real life for his debut feature, "Bullhead" about a psychically wounded cattle farmer who runs afoul of a deadly crime ring.
"In my country we were actually confronted with the existence of the Belgian hormone mafia," said Roskam who went on to describe the real-life execution of an investigator at the hands of outlaws, an incident mirrored in "Bullhead."
Nominated in 1992 for "Europa Europa," Agnieszka Holland originally turned down the chance to direct this year's Polish nominee, "In Darkness."
"It was the worst shoot of my lifetime," she said about her movie, which takes place in the sewers of the Polish city of Lvov where Jews hid during Nazi occupation.
Holland and her cast spent long hours in the darkness and stench of real sewers to achieve greater verisimilitude. "So you understand why I would turn it down," she laughed. "I have some experience and I could imagine what it would mean to me physically and psychologically to make this film."
Falardeau's "Monsieur Lazhar" tells of a one-man play about an Algerian schoolteacher in Montreal who must help his students come to terms with their former teacher's suicide.
Although he is happy to be nominated and proud of his movie, Falardeau confessed he thinks "A Separation" should win. "I would vote for 'A Separation,'" he said. "I think it's not only the best film, I think it's the film that has to win."
(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Eric Walsh)