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‘Ajami’ Wins Top Israeli Film Prize

A film about crime and violence near Tel Aviv has been named Israel’s official selection for next year’s Academy Awards.

“Ajami,” a drama set among cops and criminals in the mixed Arab and Jewish city of Jaffa, swept the major prizes September 26 at the Ophirs, the top honors of the Israeli Film and Television Academy. As the winner of the Ophir for best film, “Ajami” automatically becomes Israel’s 2010 submission in the best foreign language film contest at the Oscars — a category in which the country has been nominated in each of the past two years.

Starring a largely amateur cast of Arab actors, “Ajami” also claimed Ophirs for best direction, script and editing. Each of the prizes was split by Yaron Shani and Scandar Copti, the Jewish and Arab partners behind the film. With a script largely in Arabic, the movie will be the first Israeli submission to the Academy Awards to feature a language other than Hebrew in a majority of scenes.

Despite winning the Jerusalem International Film Festival in July and a special mention at the Cannes Film Festival in May, “Ajami” had been considered something of an underdog before the Ophirs awards ceremony. Pre-show momentum had appeared to favor the film’s chief rival, “Lebanon,” a drama about the first Lebanon War, which became the first Israeli movie to win at the Venice Film Festival in September. But some members of the Israeli film industry had speculated that the movie’s subject matter would hurt its chances at the Academy Awards because the last two Israeli submissions, “Beaufort” and “Waltz With Bashir,” also focused on the first Lebanon War.

Other honorees at the Ophirs included “The Shakshuka System,” a documentary about political corruption, and “A Matter of Size,” a comedy about a group of overweight Israelis who form a sumo wrestling team.

Assi Dayan, one of the country’s most celebrated actors and the son of former Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan, accepted a lifetime achievement award.

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