LOS ANGELES, Jan 16 (Reuters) - As Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad reflected on his second Oscar nomination for best foreign language film while hiking in the hills near Los Angeles on Thursday, he evoked the special sweetness the distinction carries for filmmakers from small, developing corners of the world.
"It means a lot to me, personally," Abu-Assad said in a telephone interview, "because it will give you more opportunities to finance your projects and attract actors."
Abu-Assad's film "Omar" about friendship and betrayal after three Palestinians murder an Israeli soldier, along with Cambodia's Rithy Panh's "The Missing Picture" represented the outsider countries nominated for best foreign language film, vying for the honor against dramas from established film industries in Italy, Denmark and Belgium.
"It's actually the same challenge as everywhere, financing film," Abu-Assad (pictured) said. "We don't have a real infrastructure for cinema (in Palestine) because we're still under occupation; it's not easy to move."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which will hand out the Academy Awards on March 2, winnowed down 76 competing foreign films to nine in the first phase of the nomination process before announcing the final five.
"The toughest recognition to get is from the people who know the business well," Abu-Assad said. "When you make a movie, you want recognition that you made a good movie and such a nomination gives you that recognition."
Each country can nominate one film each year. Last year's winner, Austrian director Michael Haneke's austere French-language drama "Amour," went beyond the foreign-language category by scoring nominations for best picture, directing, original screenplay and best actress.
STAR POWER, CLAY FIGURINES
This year's nominees include a film that features a Danish actor best known for his work on U.S. television, another that substitutes clay figurines for actors, and the winner of the Golden Globe award for best foreign language film.
Denmark's "The Hunt," about a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of molesting a student, is directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen, the lead actor of NBC television series "Hannibal" who also starred in the last year's Oscar-nominated Danish film, "A Royal Affair."
"I don't know the American situation well enough to know how much this will help, but for us back here it means the world," Vinterberg told Reuters from Copenhagen. "It's an amazing pat on the shoulder and we're very, very proud."
Vinterberg said he hoped that Mikkelsen will attract viewers and Oscar voters to the film.
"What I can tell you is that he's done one of his best performances ever," the director said of Mikkelsen, whose steely looks often land him the roles of villains in Hollywood.
"I really wrote the character for him," Vinterberg added. "The whole character was invented for Mads in particular. ... He was so manly already, he's such a stallion, that I decided to humble him and make him a schoolteacher, and make him more Scandinavian and soft."
Belgium Flemish-language drama "The Broken Circle Breakdown" by Felix Van Groeningen, about a bluegrass performer and his girlfriend whose carefree life is upended when their young daughter is stricken with cancer, is the country's seventh Oscar nomination.
"The Missing Picture," which landed Cambodia's first Oscar nomination, eschews actors altogether for clay figurines as stand-ins for the director Panh's family, whose lives were destroyed in bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge government.
Drama "The Great Beauty" from Italy, which as a country has won a record 13 best foreign picture Oscars, earned a nomination after capturing the Golden Globe award on Sunday for best foreign film.
The film, directed by Paolo Sorrentino and about an aging journalist reflecting on his life in Rome, is considered a nod to Federico Fellini's landmark 1960 film "La Dolce Vita." (Editing by Mary Milliken and Marguerita Choy)