Israeli film columnist Yair Raveh usually writes me directly about stuff, but this time he spoke to Nikki Finke about the Best Foreign Language Fiilm Oscar qualification issue that may be affecting Eran Kolirin‘s The Band’s Visit. But I did some calling around and found out a couple of things.

The Band’s Visit

The plot of the Israeli-French production deals with an Egyptian brass band visiting Israel for a performance, only to become stranded there…fish out of water. The issue is whether the dialogue in the Sony Classics release (which won’t open commercially until February ’08) is primarily Arabic and Hebrew (i.e. more than 50%) or, as “rivals” are contending (according to Finke), primarily English. If it’s the former it’ll qualify as a possible Oscar contender, and if it’s the latter it won’t.

Raveh told Finke the film’s dialogue is less than 50% English. A publicist who’s seen the film (and who isn’t working for Sony Classics) says that the characters speak Arabic and Hebrew, and sometimes resort to English when the need to communicate is urgent, but that the language thing “never seemed like an issue” — i.e., that it seemed to her a foreign-language film for the most part.

The publicist said that the Motion Picture Academy makes the calls about language content, and that “they tend to be lenient” on such matters.

Torene Svitl, the Motion Picture Academy’s foreign film liason/adminstrator, says she’s “been in contact with the Israeli people [on this] and we’ll be getting into it” sometime after October 1st. The foreign-film screenings always start in October so a decision will probably come down sooner rather than later.

“As someone who’s been following Israeli cinema for the past 15 years,” Raveh told Finke, “I’ve yet to see a local film getting such glowing international reviews.” If it makes the grade as an Oscar finalist, The Band’s Visit will be the first Israeli film to be so honored since Beyond the Walls (’84). Six Israeli films have been Oscar nominated, but none have won.