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Austria's 'Counterfeiters' Wins Oscar

Monday, February 25, 2008

LOS ANGELES —  "The Counterfeiters," the Austrian tale of a master forger forced to work for Nazis in a concentration camp, won the foreign-language Oscar on Sunday.

Now it has to earn some respect.

The category's five nominees had been overshadowed in weeks leading up to the ceremony by an uproar that severally critically acclaimed films didn't make the cut.

In the end, a young-looking movie about a historic subject took home the prize. Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky and based on printer Adolph Burger's memoir "The Devil's Workshop," "The Counterfeiters" uses documentary-style handheld camera and quick zooms for a unique look at a little-known World War II story.

"There have been some great Austrian filmmakers working here," Ruzowitzky said in his acceptance speech. "Thinking of Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Otto Preminger, most of them had to leave my country because of the Nazis, so it sort of makes sense that the first Austrian movie to win an Oscar is about the Nazis' crimes.

Ruzowitzky, who was raised in Germany, said backstage that Nazi crimes had been a part of his family history. "I always felt I should make a statement about this period of time," he said.

Two separate producers _ one German, one Austrian _ approached the director within two weeks, both with separate pitches to make a film out of Burger's book.

"I introduced them to one another," he said, and the movie became a joint production.

Austrians put aside their love for opera and classical music to get swept up in "The Counterfeiters."

"Being nominated, it was really for the whole country an exciting thing," Ruzowitzky said. "I hope very much this award will help Austrian filmmakers to make film in Austria stronger, have some more pressure on the politicians to support the film industry."

Nine movies were on the Academy's short list of potential nominees. They were selected by a committee that was criticized for overlooking innovative films including France's animated "Persepolis" (which was nominated but didn't win in the animated category) and the haunting "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," by Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu.

Mungiu's film, about a woman who seeks an abortion under Nicolae Ceausescu's regime in Romania, won top honors at last year's Cannes Film Festival and was hailed by many U.S. critics as the top foreign-language film of the year.

"Arguably '4-3-2' is the most celebrated movie of the year" in the category, said Mark Johnson, head of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences foreign language committee. "It was just perplexing to me that it didn't make it onto our short list of nine."

Johnson said he would seek changes to the committee makeup. "I'm very proud of our membership, but what I keep trying to do is get a better cross-section of the Academy," he said.

Asked about the controversy backstage, Ruzowitzky said: "Forgive me for it's more important to be nominated than to be worried about those who were not nominated."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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