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Iran returns to Oscar race with 'The Salesman'

A documentary about Syria's white helmets was also nominated for an Oscar
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi on 22 May 2016 during a photocall at 69th Cannes Film Festival in Canne (AFP)

Iran returned to the Oscar race on Tuesday with domestic drama "The Salesman" in a foreign language film category that included a Danish war drama, a quirky German comedy, Australian entry about a remote Pacific tribe, and the tale of a grumpy Swede.

Director Asghar Farhadi, who in 2012 gave Iran its first ever Academy Award with domestic drama "A Separation," was nominated on Tuesday for his latest Farsi-language movie "The Salesman."

In "The Salesman," an Iranian couple's relationship is strained as they perform the American stage classic "Death of a Salesman."

Iranian censors can impose strictures on filmmakers in the name of Islamic morality and national morale, although Farhadi, who lives and works in Iran, said his 2012 film was not subjected to such censorship.

On Tuesday, Farhadi said artistic restrictions in Iran remain about the same.

"In terms of making my film, I don't face any difficulty. But when the film is released, notwithstanding its great reception by the public, there is a minority, a very small minority, who attempt to create obstacles. Those kinds of people would even perceive this nomination as some kind of conspiracy," the director told Reuters.

White helmets nomination

Syria's White Helmets rescue workers said Tuesday they were "proud" that a documentary film about their work saving civilians in their country's devastating war was nominated for an Oscar.

"The White Helmets documentary produced by Netflix was nominated for (an) Oscar!! I'm so proud to have filmed this film and for this nomination," wrote White Helmet photographer Khaled Khatib on Twitter.

The documentary titled "The White Helmets" was named a contender Tuesday in the Oscars short documentary category.

"It's a new opportunity to convey (our) humanitarian and moral message," Raed Saleh, leader of the rescue group, told AFP after the announcement.

"The White Helmets film's nomination for an Oscar is a new confirmation of the civil defence's credibility in Syria."

"It will help us to reach the goal and the slogan we have been using since the start: 'To save one life is to save all of humanity'," he added.

The group's motto is drawn from a verse of the Koran, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.

The White Helmets emerged in 2013, working to rescue civilians in rebel-held areas during the nearly six-year war.

It counts over 3,000 volunteers among its ranks, and says it has saved more than 78,000 lives.

It is named for the distinctive white hard hats worn by its volunteers and has gained international renown for its daring rescues, often filmed and circulated on social media.

The film, directed by Orlando von Einsiedel, is one of several movies streaming online to be nominated for a prize at the 89th Academy Awards, to be handed out on February 26 in Hollywood.

The White Helmets were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize and garnered international support for their candidacy, though they ultimately lost out.

Their detractors, mostly supporters of President Bashar al-Assad's government, accuse them of being tools of their international donors.

But others have hail the group's volunteers as "real life heroes".

Syria's conflict started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests and has since spiralled into a complex war, killing more than 310,000 people and displacing over half the country's population.

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