Arab films submitted to Oscars for Best Int'l Feature Film: 1956-2020

Ati Metwaly , Friday 4 Dec 2020

Cairo Station by Youssef Chahine was the first African and the first Arab film to contend for the award in 1958

Cairo Station (1958)
Cairo Station (1958)

Several Arab countries have already submitted their films to the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film while others have still time to make their choice until end of December. According to this year's exceptional rules, the submitted films must have been released in their respective countries between 1 October 2019 and 31 December 2020. 

The Academy will reveal the shortlist of 10 nominated films on 9 February 2021.

The first Arab country which had submitted its film to the Oscars is Egypt, being at the same time the first African country to do so.

Only a few of Arab films managed to get the nomination and only one won the award: Algeria's film Z by Costa Gavras, in 1969.

Arab countries which have never submitted any film to the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film are Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Somalia.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) also known as the Oscars introduced the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film in 1956.

Below are some more interesting facts about Arab countries' submissions to the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.


Arab countries which have already submitted their films this year:


First film submitted in 1958: Bab El-Hadid (Cairo Station) by Youssef Chahine. It was also the first African and the first Arab film to contend for the award.

Three other films by Chahine were also submitted to the Academy: Alexandria... Why? (in 1979), Alexandria Again and Forever (1990) and Destiny (1997).

Only two other Egyptian directors had more than one film submitted: Mohamed Khan with In the Heliopolis Flat (2007) and Factory Girl (2014) as well as Daoud Abdel-Sayed with Land of Dreams in 1984, and Messages from the Sea in 2010.

Other Egyptian directors had one film submitted throughout their whole career. The names include Henry Barakat with The Nightingale's Prayer in 1959, Kamal El-Sheikh with Chased by the Dogs in 1962, Salah Abu Seif with Cairo 30 in 1966, Ali Badrakhan with People on the Top in 1981, and more recently Mohamed Diab with Clash (2016), as well as Amr Salama with Sheikh Jackson in 2017, among a number of other filmmakers over the decades.

None of Egypt's films however made it to the final nominations for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.

It's worth mentioning though, that in 2013, Egyptian-American documentary film The Square by Jehane Noujaim was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

For Oscars 2021, Egypt has submitted When We're Born directed by Tamer Ezzat.

When We
When We're Born by Tamer Ezzat


First film submitted in 1969: Z by Costa Gavras. The film won the Academy Award.

Throughout the years, Algeria had three films nominated to the award. In 1983 Le Bal by Ettore Scola was nominated in addition to two films by Rachid Bouchareb: Dust of Life in 1995 and Days of Glory in 2006.

Rachid Bouchareb is Algeria's most frequent choice when it comes to the Oscars. His other films submitted to the award but not nominated include Cheb (in 1991), Little Senegal (2000), Outside the Law (2010) and Road to Istanbul (2017).

Another Algerian filmmaker, Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina had four films submitted but not nominated: Chronicle of the Years of Fire (1975), Sandstorm (1982), The Last Image (1987) and Twilight of Shadows (2018).

For Oscars 2021, Algeria has submitted Heliopolis by Djaâfar Gacem making it the first time ever for this director to submit a film.


First film submitted in 1995: Le Magique by Azdine Melliti.

None of Tunisia's films however made it to the final nominations.

For Oscars 2021, Tunisia has submitted The Man Who Sold His Skin directed by Kaouther Ben Hania. This is the second film by Ben Hania to be submitted to the Oscars, the first being Beauty and the Dogs in 2018.

Z by Costa-Gavras


First film submitted in 1998: West Lebanon by Ziad Doueiri.

Two films were nominated to the award: The Insult by Ziad Doueiri in 2017 followed by Capernaum by Nadine Labaki in 2018.

It is worth adding that two other films by Labaki were submitted in previous years but not nominated: Caramel in 2007 and Where Do We Go Now? in 2011.

For Oscars 2021, Lebanon has submitted Broken Keys directed by Jimmy Keyrouz. This is the first time for the director to have his film submitted to the Oscars.


First film submitted in 2003: Divine Intervention by Elia Suleiman.

The same director's It Must Be Heaven was Palestine's submission in 2019.

Two Palestinian films were nominated for the award: Paradise Now in 2005 and Omar in 2013, both directed by Hany Abu-Assad. The same director's The Idol was submitted in 2016 but not nominated.

Another Palestinian director who had more than one pieces of work submitted is Annemarie Jacir with films Salt of this Sea (2008), When I Saw You (2012) and Wajib (2017).

For Oscars 2021, Palestine has submitted Gaza Mon Amour directed by Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser, being their first work submitted to the Oscars.


First film submitted in 2008: Captain Abu-Raed by Amin Matalqa.

Jordan has a total of three films which contended for the awards in past years including Theeb by Naji Abu-Nowar which was submitted in 2015 and got nominated for the 88th Academy Awards.

In 2016 Jordan submitted 3000 Nights by Mai Masri.

For Oscars 2021, Jordan has made its fourth submission with 200 Meters by Ameen Nayfeh.


Hoping to enter the Oscars in 2021, with the drama You Will Die at Twenty by Amjad Abu Alala is the first-ever Sudanese contender for the Academy Awards.

You Will Die at 20
You Will Die at 20 by Amjad Abu Alala


Arab countries which have not yet submitted their films:

Saudi Arabia

In its whole history, Saudi Arabia submitted three films to Oscars, two of which are directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour: Wadjda (2013) and The Pefect Candidate in 2019.

Another Saudi film submitted was Barakah Meets Barakah by Mahmoud Sabbagh, in 2016.

None of these Saudi films made it to the final nominations.


First film submitted in 2005: Requiem of Snow by Jamil Rostami.

None of Iraq's films made it to the final nominations.


Kuwait has only two films submitted to the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film: The Cruel Sea (in 1972) and The Wedding of Zein (in 1978), both by Khalid Al-Siddiq.

None of Kuwait's films made it to the final nominations.

Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour


Film Timbuktu (2014) by Abderrahmane Sissako was the only submission. The film was nominated to the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.


First film submitted in 1977: Blood Wedding by Souheil Ben-Barka.

Morocco waited until 1988 to submit the second film, Mektoub by Nabil Ayouch. The following years saw almost yearly submissions.

In fact, Ayouch scored the highest number of films submitted by Morocco. Apart from Mektoub, his other works presented to the Academy Awards were: Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets (2000), Horses of God (2013) and Razzia (2017).

Film titled Omar Killed Me by Roschdy Zem made it to the shortlist of submissions but was not nominated.


Film Little Gandhi (2017) by Sam Kadi was the only Syrian submission. The film was not nominated for the award.


Two Yemeni films were submitted to the Academy Awards: I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced by Khadija Al-Salami (2017) and 10 Days Before the Wedding by Amr Gamal. None of them were nominated.

It is worth adding that Karama Has No Walls by Scottish-Yemeni filmmaker Sara Ishaq, was nominated to the Academy Awards in the Best Documentary, Short Subjects section.

I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced
I Am Nojoom, Age 10 and Divorced by Khadija Al-Salami

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