SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Call it the Year of Lula.
Already enjoying one of the world’s highest approval ratings and the near-certain victory of his chosen successor in elections next month, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva received a new honor on Thursday: his life story was chosen as Brazil’s candidate for an Oscar.
“Lula - Brazil’s Son,” an independently produced but glowing portrayal of Brazil’s first working-class president, was selected unanimously by a panel of filmmakers and government officials as the South American country’s candidate for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards. The Oscars will be handed out on February 27.
The timing of the selection raised some eyebrows in Brazil.
It came little more than a week before an October 3 presidential election in which Lula is not a candidate, but is playing a leading role.
Lula, a former metalworker and union boss, is barred by Brazil’s constitution from running for a third consecutive term. But he has barnstormed the country touting his achievements to help rally support for his former chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff.
Rousseff has a 20-point lead over her nearest rival in opinion polls.
“Lula - Brazil’s Son” ranked only sixth in a recent poll on the Culture Ministry’s website that asked what film should represent Brazil in the annual awards.
“Our decision has no political connection,” the president of the Brazilian Academy of Cinema, Roberto Farias, said in a statement on the ministry’s site. “Lula is a star here and abroad. He’s internationally known.”
Lula, 64, enjoys a 75 percent approval rating in Brazil where he has melded his inspiring biography with market-friendly policies and social welfare programs. Since he took office in 2003, more than 20 million Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty and Brazil has become one of the world’s fastest-growing emerging economies.
World leaders have fawned over him, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who famously called Lula “my man” in a meeting last year.
Born to an illiterate mother and alcoholic father in Brazil’s drought-prone northeast, Lula worked as a shoeshine boy and lathe operator after his family moved to Sao Paulo when he was a boy. He never graduated from high school.
The film focuses more on emotional punch than overtly political content, lingering on moments such as the death of Lula’s first wife during childbirth. The action ends in 1980 with Lula’s brief imprisonment by the military dictatorship.
Opposition leaders criticized the film when it was released earlier this year, arguing it was thinly disguised electoral propaganda. The movie was funded by 18 companies ranging from construction firms to car makers, some of which have major contracts with Lula’s government.
“We voted for the film because it seemed well-made,” Farias said, adding that Gloria Pires — who plays Lula’s mother — “would make an excellent candidate for best actress.”
Reporting by Yukari Sekine and Tatiana Ramil; Writing by Brian Winter; Editing by Peter Cooney