Ida, the film produced by South Africa-born film and theatre producer Eric Abraham, won Best Foreign Language Film at a ceremony in Los Angeles. The Polish-language black-and-white film shot in a square aspect ratio format was also nominated for best cinematography.
This is the second Academy Award for Abraham, the owner and founding producer of the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town. He won an Oscar the Czech film Kolya in 1996.
Speaking from Los Angeles, a delighted Eric Abraham said,"It's wonderful when the underdog triumphs. A small, short black-and-white film in Polish about two women who go on a road trip to learn about who they are, and where they come from.
"Ida seems to have touched people across the barriers of language and culture in over 30 countries so far and restores my faith in the appetite for films that make us think and feel about the human condition. South Africa has so many such stories waiting to be told on film".
Silence and contemplation
The film, set in 1962 Poland, tells the story of 18-year-old Anna, who is preparing to be a nun. A meeting with her aunt reveals that she is, in fact, Jewish and that her real name is Ida.
The film is directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, who wrote the film with Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
Accepting the award, Pawlikowski thanked Abraham and all those involved in the making and success of the film, saying: "We make a film about silence and withdrawing from the world and the need for contemplation - and here we are, at the epicentre of world noise and attention. Fantastic - life is full of surprises."
Ida has also been selected as best film of 2014 by the European Film Academy and won best film not in the English language at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) awards.
Abraham commissioned the screenplay from Pawlikowski six years ago, and put up 40% of the financing for the project through his companies Portobello Pictures London, Phoenix Film (Denmark) and Portobello Film Sales (Denmark). The rest was raised from European media agencies.
"Ida is about many things. Cross-generational Holocaust trauma. The loss of family, home, identity and even memory," Abraham said in an interview with the Cape Argus, a Cape Town newspaper after the film's nomination.
"With my family history - my father is a Hungarian Jew who fled anti-Semitism before World War II. I fled South Africa after being banned and house-arrested for reporting on human rights and black politics for the international media, into 15 years of exile. So I can understand and identify with the trauma of loss of family, home, identity."
Abraham, who grew up in Rondebosch and attended SACS in Cape Town, was banned and put under house arrest by the apartheid government in 1976.
A former journalist and foreign correspondent, he left Cape Town in January 1977. He now lives mostly in London, but regularly returns to Cape Town.