A storm is brewing overVenezuela's choice as Foreign Language Oscar candidate. The cause of therumbling is the decision by El Centro Nacional De Cinematografia (CENAC) tooverlook the claims of Secuestro Express, the country's biggest box-office hit in history. Some, notably thefilm's 27-year-old writer director Jonathan Jakubowicz, believe the decisionmay be politically motivated.

"It was a very lastminute decision," Jakubowicz told ScreenDaily.com "The entire week, they (CENAC) were tellingus for sure that we were going to get the submission. They even asked us tosend a print to the Academy. Suddenly, they decided to send another film."

The Chavez Government hasbeen openly critical of Jakubowicz's film.

"The Vice-President ofVenezuela called Secuestro Expressa miserable film with no artistic value and a falsification of the truth,"Jakubowicz said.

There have even been callsfrom supporters of President Chavez for Jakubowicz to serve a jail sentence forportraying the authorities in a negative light and promoting the use of drugs.

Last week, supporters ofJakubowicz launched a website, http://new.petitiononline.com/sexpress/petition.htmlto petition members of the US Academy to consider replacing the officiallychosen film, 1888, with SecuestroExpress. "It is very obviousthat Secuestro was the firstchance in the history of Venezuela to win an Oscar. Miramax is backing themovie and it had a real important Oscar buzz," Jakubowicz said.

Speaking in London, where hewas attending this weekend;s Raindance Festival screening of his film, theVenezuelan director insisted that Secuestro Express (about the violent kidnapping of a yuppie couple onthe streets of Caracas) was neither pro nor anti President Chavez. "Amongus (making the film), there are people who believe in his revolution and peoplewho are against it." The intention he said, was to expose the violence andsocial inequality in contemporary Venezuela.

Amid the ongoing controversyabout Secuestro Express,Jakubowicz has been distracted from future projects. He says it is"50/50" as to whether he would direct Paranoia, the mooted remake of Harry, He's Here To Help, being hatched by the Weisntein Company and UK-basedVertigo. Names such as Courteney Cox and Woody Harrelson have been linked withthe project. Whatever happens with Paranoia, Jakubowicz is keen to work with the Vertigo team."They're friends of mine, fantastic people. We have the same spirit,"he said of the UK company.

Miramax picked up SecuestroExpress following its screening atthe AFI Festival last year and opened it in the US in August.