While final nominations aren’t announced until January 2016, the foreign language category is considered an award for the submitting country as a whole, and accepted by the winning film’s director. In this intriguing case, that would be Palestine, where the film was entirely located and filmed, and Palestinian graphic artist Amer Shomali and veteran Canadian documentarian Paul Cowan.
Produced with the backing of the National Film Board of Canada and European broadcaster Arte, the Palestine/Canada/France co-production mashes animation, interviews, reenactments, and archival footage into a 75-minute absurdist documentary chronicling the times of 18 cows-at-large living on a Palestinian farm collective in Beit Sahour, created by pacifists and intellectuals during the 1987 Intifada resistance to Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Milked for independent production during a Palestinian boycott of Israeli products, the cows are deemed national security threats and must go underground to ditch the army — a tragicomedy mined by Shomali and Cowan to impart a narrative standing quite apart from the standard stories and images of uprising.
Shomali worked with the animation team in Montreal, Canada, including design director Michelle Lannen and artisti director Dominique Côté, to design the animated sequences. His own drawings also appear in the film.
Ironically, Palestine’s The Wanted 18 follows in the footsteps of Israel’s Waltz With Bashir, the first and only animated film nominated for a foreign-language Oscar, although over a dozen countries have submitted animated films in the category.
Since premiering last year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Shomali and Cowan’s stop-motion documentary has picked up a few awards on the festival circuit. Earlier this year, Shomali was prevented by Israel from traveling to New York City’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival because, you guessed it, “security threat.”
“In The Wanted 18, you will see a different face of Palestinians and a different face of Israelis, a new take, a new point of view, which is the cows’ point of view,” Shomali told Democracy Now at the time. “It’s crazy, but … everything can be a security threat.”