SAO PAULO, Brazil – Brazilian movie director Fernando Meirelles (search), whose film "City of God" (search) was nominated Tuesday for four Academy Awards, asked production assistants a single question when he heard the news: "Has the Academy gone mad?"
Meirelles himself was nominated for best director for the semi-documentary film, which intensely depicts gang wars in Rio de Janeiro's fetid slums.
"A Portuguese-language film nominated for best screenplay adaptation? What's going on here?" Meirelles said in a press statement, hurriedly written and released after he learned of the film's four Oscar nominations.
In his statement, Meirelles said he was "bombarded by the news of these nominations" by production assistants at the site of his current project. Meirelles is in London for preproduction work on a film entitled "The Constant Gardener," based on a John Le Carre novel and starring Ralph Fiennes (search).
"City of God" was nominated Tuesday in directing, editing, screenplay and photography categories. Meirelles said it was hard to believe that a film made in Brazilian streets, back allies and slums could be nominated in so many categories.
The film is set in a Rio de Janeiro slum known as "The City of God" because, according to a traditional saying among residents of Rio, "it's the one neighborhood in Rio that God never visits."
Meirelles used mainly amateur actors to recreate the ambiance of an urban wasteland in the tropics. Critics said the cast, as well as Meirelles' use of hand-held cameras and bizarre lighting, gave the film a gritty, realistic tone.
"This was a group effort," Meirelles noted in his statement, sharing the Oscar glory with co-director Katia Lund.