Algerian film to compete for 2021 Oscars

“The film ‘Heliopolis’, directed by Djaafar Gacem will represent Algeria in the Oscars’ best international feature film award,” said a press release from the Algerian Centre for the Development of Cinema (CADC).
Tuesday 03/11/2020
Algerian actor Aziz Boukrouni, one of the film’s stars, the movie’s poster. (Facebook)
Algerian actor Aziz Boukrouni, one of the film’s stars, the movie’s poster. (Facebook)

ALGIERS – In 1970, Algeria became the first country in the Arab world to see one of its films win an Oscars – the Algerian-French production “Z” directed by Costa Gavras.

Now, the North African country is hoping to repeat this achievement with the film “Heliopolis,” which narrates part of the history of the Algerian revolution.

“The film ‘Heliopolis’ directed by Djaafar Gacem will represent Algeria in the Oscars’ best international feature film award,” said a press release from the Algerian Center for the Development of Cinema (CADC).

The nomination makes Algeria the only Arab country to have reached the Oscars’ shortlist for “best international feature film” four times.

Director Djaâfar Gacem. (Faebook)
Director Djaâfar Gacem. (Faebook)

This prize is as awarded to a feature-length motion picture produced outside the US with a predominantly non-English dialogue track, and can include animated and documentary features.

“Heliopolis,” based on the real history of Algeria’s revolution, is a clear condemnation of the massive abuses committed by France in Algeria. It traces the period leading up to the massacres of May 8, 1945, in which the former colonial power committed terrible atrocities against Algerians.

On that day, Algerians in the village of “Héliopolis” in the eastern Guelma province took to the streets to protest against French colonial rule and for independence. The French army and French settler militias violently repressed the demonstrations.

The film centres on the conflict between Zenati, who favours assimilation with France, and his son, who supports independence.

A scene from the film. (Facebook)
A scene from the film. (Facebook)

“‘Heliopolis’ relates two visions, one assimilationist conveyed by the son of a Gaid, and independentist through the ideas of a young student, son of a landowner in the village of ‘Héliopolis’ in Guelma (East of Algeria),” said Algerian news agency APS.

The movie has been ready to be screened since the end of last February. However, the Algerian Center for the Development of Cinema (CADC), affiliated with the Algerian Ministry of Culture and Arts, postponed its screening several times due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last March.

Following the film’s nomination for the Oscars, the CADC announced that “Heliopolis” will be  screened on November 5 in the Opera of Algiers. The film stars Algerian actors Aziz Boukrouni, Mehdi Ramdani and Fodil Assoul as well as French actors.

It is the first feature by director and screenwriter Djaafar Gacem, who has previously worked on successful TV series such as Nass Mlah City (2001), Djemai Family (2008) and Soltane Achour Acher (2015).

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony (Oscars) will take place on April 25, 2021. It was originally set to be held on February 28, before being postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Algeria chose the film “Papicha,” directed by Mounia Meddour, to represent the country in the 92nd Academy Awards for “best international feature film.”

A scene from the film. (Facebook)
A scene from the film. (Facebook)

The film presented a critical vision of a religious extremist current that dragged the country into a bloody decade-long civil war, featuring a lead character who expressed sympathy for the 2019 Hirak protest movement.