February 23, 1965
Sallah Shabbati becomes Israel’s first Oscar nominated film when it is nominated in the Best Foreign Language Category for the 37th Academy Awards. The film, written and directed by Ephraim Kishon, stars Chaim Topol and highlights with humor the struggle encountered by Jews immigrating from Arab lands to Israel. At the Golden Globes, the film received a special secondary prize as an Outstanding Foreign Film and Topol was recognized as a “star of tomorrow.”
Sallah Shabbati was a box office smash in Israel with over one million tickets sold and was released in the United States in March 1965. It continues to enjoy tremendous popularity. It was part of a genre of films in Israel during the 1960’s and 1970’s called Bourekas films, named after a popular pastry from North Africa. Bourekas films were comedies and melodramas, usually with a Mizrahi (Sephardi Jews from Arab lands) protagonist, that were based on ethnic stereotypes. Bourekas films would most often feature a conflict between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in Israel. Sallah in particular highlighted both this conflict as well as provided a critical look at the pioneering myth of the Kibbutz and physical labor in building up the country.
The Oscar nomination was a significant moment for the young state and its nascent film industry. As of 2013, ten Israeli films have been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar and another three have been nominated for Best Documentary Feature, including two in 2013, The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras.
For more about Israel’s Oscar nominated films in the Best Foreign Language category, the Israel Film Center has a listing with video excerpts: http://tinyurl.com/pz7zn6b