Northern exposure

The annual DocAviv Galilee Festival takes some of Israel’s best factual film productions to a new audience.

November 22, 2011 22:24
Sinai Abt

Sinai Abt 311. (photo credit: Courtesy of Itamar Cohen-Yooki Photographers)

We may not, as yet, have produced too many international cinematic blockbusters, although our movie industry is slowly but surely growing, but our documentary film work has been in fine mettle for some time. That is plain for all to see at events like the annual DocAviv Festival which takes place at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque each spring. For the last three years the festival has spawned a smaller sibling, the DocAviv Galilee Festival, with this year’s five-day film bash kicking off Monday at Ma’alot Tarshiha.

The program incorporates 35 films which encompass a highly eclectic range of subject matter while, outside the screening halls, there will be an exhibition of photographs of graffiti taken all over the country, discussion sessions about the content of some of the documentaries, a workshop that will address the sticky area of how to portray the complexities of life here to children from different sectors of the public, and even a cooking competition featuring some of the traditional dishes regularly served up by local experts.

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DocAviv Galilee Festival artistic director Sinai Abt says the geographic location of next week’s event has an important bearing on the nature of the lineup.

“The Galilee has a very mixed population – Jews and Arabs and Druse, religious and secular Jews, olim [immigrants] and children from all sectors. It is a very non-homogeneous audience,” he notes.

Abt is delighted that the Galilee event is now into its third year, and has been extended for a fifth day, and says we have a lot to offer in the documentary filmmaking department. Part of that, he observes, is down to the fact that this neck of the woods always has some kind of “action” going on.

“Of course we always have conflict here, but that’s not enough. You need to have someone to document what’s going on, in the best and most interesting way possible, and we have a lot of highly talented people here.”

In fact, Abt would go so far as to say that we have something unique to offer the rest of the world.

“There are other places with conflicts and interesting topics to cover, but they don’t really have the people there to turn them into films.”

That will come through loud and clear over the five days of films which touch on a wide spectrum of areas, including the social protest movement, the state of the kibbutz today, the life and work of rocker Dudu Tasa – which will be followed by a concert by the musician in question – domestic violence, a Bedouin artist’s desperate attempts to reunite with his Gazan family and sexual harassment within the Arab community.

Abt is also very appreciative of the support documentary filmmakers receive from the state.

“The Cinema Law was passed 10 years ago and the funding the industry gets thanks to that makes a big difference. We can also see the result of that at the festival.”

THE ARTISTIC director also applauds the work of the documentarists in endeavoring to go where many others might fear to tread.

“They are very daring, in terms of the content and the way they present the subject matter.”

Part of that, says Abt, is down to good old Israeli chutzpa.

“I think filmmakers abroad are more cautious. They don’t always follow the rules here, and that often leads to very interesting results. They touch on political issues and social material too.”

The latter area is highlighted, in a refreshing and intriguing manner, in the The Galilee in A Day project which was created especially for the festival. The film comprises footage shot by a large number of school students from across the region. The individually shot sections were edited and compiled to produce a multifaceted overview of life in the Galilee from a junior point of view, within a 24-hour period. The project was undertaken in conjunction with the Jump Cut film editing and animation school.

One of the focal points of the forthcoming DocAviv Galilee Festival is public debate about social issues.

“The festival focuses on the social issues which head the public agenda these days, and form the basis of numerous documentary work,” says Abt.

“Discussion of issues of justice and society are particularly relevant here, due to the fact that the festival takes place in the country’s periphery.”

Considering the unfettered mindset adopted by many of our documentary filmmakers here it is worthwhile considering whether their work, however penetrating and thorough it may be, really makes a difference on the street.

“I am not so naïve [as] to believe that one film will change reality around, but cinema, and the media in general, play an important part in changing people’s awareness, and this has an accumulative effect. There are specific instances in which a documentary actually has a direct effect on a situation but, at the very least, I believe that this kind of work can generate momentum that leads to change.”

This year’s festival also includes a first-time pitching event which, in conjunction with the Gesher Film Fund, will bring documentary filmmakers together with activists, funds, NPOs and social organizations which, it is hoped, will spawn cooperative efforts.

“These kinds of encounters can produce very interesting results,” suggests Abt. “It can lead to actual funding, or help with distributing a film or with other logistical sides of the business.”

With such a diverse topical spread, and with all the extramural activities going at Ma’alot Tarshiha next week – which also include an animation workshop for children – Abt seems to have most bases covered at DocAviv Galilee Festival.

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