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A Montreal filmmaker's documentary is Canada's choice for Oscar nomination

A still from the documentary "Rojek" portraying a YAT (unités anti-terroriste) fighter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nicolas Canniccioni_Metafilms_Maison A still from the documentary "Rojek" portraying a YAT (unités anti-terroriste) fighter. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nicolas Canniccioni_Metafilms_Maison
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The documentary Rojek, by 30-year-old Montreal filmmaker of Kurdish origin Zaynê Akyol, will represent Canada at the Academy Awards for Best International Film.

Telefilm Canada made the announcement on Thursday on behalf of the pan-Canadian selection committee, which made its choice from among the 28 films submitted for this year's selection.

After telling the stories of Kurdish women fighters in her previous film, Gulistan, Land of Roses, Akyol goes to meet incarcerated members of ISIS and women in prison camps.

Producer Sylvain Corbeil praised the committee's "courage" in choosing "a genre that is not always visible" and pointed to the filmmaker's "nuanced approach" to a highly delicate subject.

Rojek, released in theatres on January 20, is narrated in a mixture of Arabic, English, French and Kurdish.

It has been screened at festivals worldwide and won the DGC - Canadian Feature Documentary Special Jury Prize at the Hot Docs 2022 Canadian International Film Festival.

To date, seven countries have submitted entries for Best International Film. Last year, 93 countries submitted a film in this category.

We'll have to wait until December 21 for the shortlist of 15 films selected for the next stage and January 23, 2024, for the announcement of films nominated for Oscars. The prestigious ceremony will take place on March 10.

Producers Corbeil and Audrey-Ann Dupuis-Pierre hope to bring the feature-length documentary Rojek back to theatres and show it at American festivals where it has yet to screen.

Over the years, eight Canadian films have made it all the way to a nomination in the category that used to be called Best Foreign Language Film: Kim Nguyen's Rebelle (2013), Philippe Falardeau's Monsieur Lazhar (2012), Agnieszka Holland's In Darkness (a minority co-production with Poland and Germany, also in 2012), Denis Villeneuve's Incendies (2011), Deepa Mehta's Water (2007) and three films by Denys Arcand, namely The Decline of the American Empire (1987), Jesus of Montreal (1990) and The Barbarian Invasions (2004).

To date, Les Invasions barbares is the only Canadian film to have won the statuette in this category.

-This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Aug. 24, 2023.

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