By Ray Hanania
Well, one Arab-Israeli war won’t be fought this year, but there will be much debate over the messages in the controversial film American Sniper, the story of an American soldier during the illegal war in Iraq.
Unlike in several past broadcasts of the Academy Awards, no Oscars have been nominated this year for films made in the Arab World by Arab or Israeli producers.
But at least one Arab American is nominated for an Oscar, in the Documentary Feature category. That’s Lebanese American filmmaker John Maloof who with co-producer Charlie Siskel, the son of the late movie critic Gene Siskel, created the documentary Finding Vivian Maier.
The Maloof documentary is about photographer Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny and kept her photographs hidden from the world. After acquiring thousands of her negatives in an auction in 2007, Maloof set out to discover more about the enigmatic woman whose affinity for outsiders and the disenfranchised is reflected in her stunning photographs.
His online bio describes John Maloof as “an author and street photographer involved in the historic preservation of Chicago’s Northwest Side. He discovered the first negatives of Vivian Maier’s work in 2007 while compiling a book about the history of the neighborhood where he grew up. He edited the first and second published collections of Maier’s work, Vivian Maier: Street Photographer and Vivian Maier: Self-Portraits. He lives in Chicago.”
And the film description offers: “The definitive monograph of American photographer Vivian Maier, exploring the full range and brilliance of her work and the mystery of her life, written and edited by noted photography curator and writer Marvin Heiferman; featuring 250 black-and-white images, color work, and other materials never seen before; and a foreword by New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman.
“Vivian Maier’s story—the secretive nanny-photographer during her life who becomes a popular sensation shortly after her death—has, to date, been pieced together only from previously seen or known images she made and the handful of facts that have surfaced about her life. During her lifetime she shot more than 100,000 images, which she kept hidden from the world. In 2007, two years before her death, Chicago historic preservationist John Maloof discovered a trove of negatives, and roll upon roll of undeveloped film in a storage locker he bought at auction. They revealed a surprising and accomplished artist and a stunning body of work, which Maloof championed and brought to worldwide acclaim.
“Vivian Maier presents the most comprehensive collection and largest selection of the photographer’s work—created during the 1950s through the 1970s in New York, Chicago, and on her travels around the country—almost exclusively unpublished and including her previously unknown color work. It features images of and excerpts from Maier’s personal artifacts, memorabilia, and audiotapes, made available for the first time. This remarkable volume draws upon recently conducted interviews with people who knew Maier, which shed new light on Maier’s photographic skill and her life.”
The Documentary Feature category features five nominations including Maloof’s work. They are CitizenFour by Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky; Last Days in Vietnam by Rory Kennedy and Keven McAlester; The Salt of the Earth by Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and David Rosier; and Virunga by Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara.
American Sniper received nominations in six categories including Best Actor for Bradley Cooper, Best Picture by Clint Eastwood, and also in Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Writing.
Three films from and about the Arab World were nominated and in competition at the 2014 Oscars. They included the first-ever nomination at the Academy Awards representing the State of Palestine. They are feature film Omar, Film short Karama Has No Walls, and the documentary feature The Square.
A fourth film in 2014, American Hustle, touched on the anti-Arab stereotypes in the 1980s FBI undercover investigation, Abscam. Coincidentally, Bradley Cooper starred in American Hustle which probed indirectly anti-Arab racism which became the basis for the FBI sting operation featured in the film.
Omar was listed in the Foreign Language Film category. This year’s Foreign Language Film entries are: Ida, Poland, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski; Leviathan, Russia, Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev; Tangerines, Estonia, directed by Zaza Urushadze; Timbuktu, Mauritania, Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako; and, Wild Tales, Argentina, directed by Damián Szifron.