Cape Town - Fugard Theatre owner Eric Abraham will fly the flag for South Africa at the Oscars next month, after the film he co-produced was nominated in two categories – for best cinematography and best foreign language film.
If his Polish movie Ida wins in Los Angeles on February 22, it will be the second film to which the South African-born film and theatre producer has been linked to win the highly-contested foreign language category.
produced the Czech film Kolya, which won the 1996 Academy Award and Golden Globes Award in the category.
Ida was also nominated for a Golden Globe, and is up for two Baftas on February 8 – for best cinematography and best film not in the English language.
Abraham also produced the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel Danny the Champion of the World.
Directed by Polish-born Pawel Pawlikowski, Ida is a black-and-white film that tells the story of 18-year-old Anna in 1962 Poland. She is a teenager preparing to be a nun at the convent in which she grew up, until a meeting with an aunt reveals that she is in fact Jewish, and that her real name is Ida.
Following the path of her family history, she faces a choice between sisterhood and her Jewish identity.
Abraham told Weekend Argus via e-mail from New York on Friday: “It’s an enormous accolade from one’s peers in the film community, but even more importantly, it will persuade distributors to put greater effort into promoting Ida and therefore more people will have a chance to see it.”
He is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta), and the European and Czech Film Academies.
Abraham explained that he commissioned the screenplay from Pawlikowski six years ago. He then developed the project, financing 40 percent of it through his companies Portobello Pictures London, Phoenix Film (Denmark) and Portobello Film Sales (Denmark). The rest was raised from European media agencies.
Abraham sold the film in 60 territories through Portobello Film Sales.
Polish producers Piotr Dzieciol and Ewa Puszczynska provided line production on set, and in post-production in Poland.
Pointing to the movie’s box office success, Abraham said
Ida had been seen by 500 000 people in France.
“It is the second highest grossing foreign language film in the US in 2014, and highest grossing Polish film in the UK of all time.”
Ida has not yet been released in South Africa.
Abraham said he identified with the story of Ida, which is what attracted him to the film project.
“Ida is about many things. Cross-generational Holocaust trauma. The loss of family, home, identity and even memory. With my family history – my father is a Hungarian Jew who fled anti-Semitism before World War II. I fled South Africa after being banned and house-arrested for reporting on human rights and black politics for the international media, into 15 years of exile.
“So I can understand and identify with the trauma of loss of family, home, identity.”
Although Abraham has been producing foreign language films for about 20 years, he does not speak a foreign language.
Abraham grew up in Rondebosch and went to school at SACS.
A former journalist and foreign correspondent, he left Cape Town in January 1977.
He now lives mostly in London, but visits Cape Town four or five times a year, and is very close to the Fugard.
“We are about to enter our sixth year of the Fugard (February 12), which I own and run with an extraordinary team headed by our executive director Daniel Galloway... I am proud of each and every one of our Fugard productions,” Abraham told Weekend Argus.
“For me, foreign language film-making, like The Fugard Theatre, is a labour of love and not really about investment and commerce.
“It’s about enabling stories from other cultures and languages which, in their very rootedness, are universal and reflect our common humanity.”
Labia Theatre managing owner Ludi Kraus said the film was “on their minds”, but that as far as he was aware, it had not yet been acquired for South Africa.
“Commercially, it is not an easy film. We are willing to try again.”
Clive Fisher, general manager of acquisitions and scheduling at Ster-Kinekor Theatres, said they were in negotiations for Ida, and were hoping to screen it by the middle of the year.
* The Oscar ceremony takes place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on February 22. Abraham will attend.