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Since being founded by independent film producer Orna Yarmot in 1999, the Israeli Forum for International Documentary Co-Production has produced some 80 films aired on 28 of the world's most viewed TV stations. Yarmot's successful initiative is currently responsible for 30% of the total investment in Israeli cinema, and has brought the number of international viewers of Israeli documentaries up to 16,000,000.
The idea for the Forum came to Yarmot at Cannes. Active on the local and international documentary cinema scene in the Nineties, she attended MIP (the Cannes Festival world TV market) and the Amsterdam Forum where she was impressed by the pitching and partnering that goes on in the documentary film industry. Deciding to stage her own forum at home, Yarmot invited "a modest four guests from abroad, compared to the minimum of 30 they had at these other places."
The first Israeli Forum for International Documentary Co-Productions went so well, says Yarmot, that "it was very obvious it had to become a tradition". In 2000, she invited six guests, and it has improved and expanded from year to year. "We have streamlined our selection procedures, and after projects are selected, we have workshops," she says.
This year, 16 commissioning editors will attend, from Denmark, Finland, the US, Canada and the Netherlands.
The Forum provides local documentary filmmakers with the opportunity to pitch their films to international directors and producers. It also features the Docoshuk, in which completed Israeli documentaries are showcased.
"Over the years, the Forum has become a marketing fund," says Yarmot.
The entire process of the Forum takes 10 months. Written submissions by would-be documentary filmmakers trickle in from September until the December deadline. The selection takes place in January, followed by a week of workshops for those whose proposals have been accepted. After the workshops, the filmmakers are able to rewrite their scripts if they feel the need. Then there are "simulation meetings" at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque in which the documentary filmmakers get a chance to role-play with Israeli film professionals and make their pitch in English as preparation for the Forum's main event in May.
This year, the May 25-28 event will include four sections: "Catalogue Projects" (pitching sessions for works-in-progress); "Catalogue Completed Films" (completed documentaries usually shown at Docoshuk in the winter); "Workshop" (this year's subject is narrative - documentaries screened in theaters use a different form of narrative from those aired on TV); and a "Retrospective" tribute (this time the honor goes to Scandinavian TV).
"Retrospective" has developed over the past few years and so far the BBC, Sundance TV and TV Ontario have been honored by the Forum. This year it will be the turn of TV2 Denmark and YLE Finland. Israel's very productive cooperation with Danish and Finnish TV will be saluted with the May 28 screening of the documentary film Why We Fight about the war and weapons industry. The unique film takes a behind-the-scenes look at how war is produced. It moves backward - from the dropping of a bomb in Iraq to the plane that dropped it, back to the air base that sent the plane, to the bomb-maker, and beyond, to military strategists and even the president. Throughout May, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque will be screening movies produced through cooperation with Denmark and Finland.
The 2006 "Workshop" will be led by Kees Riniks, head of the Dutch Documentary Film Fund, who is also the initiator of "Cinemanet", a pan-European project for the distribution of documentary films. Once a film is selected by Cinemanet, it is then screened in eight European countries.
This year's "Catalogue Completed Films" will include 24 documentaries. Several deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, such as Fly Palestine, Sounds of Music from Ramallah, Witness of Violence, Kfar Darom, Hikiya and Men Before their Time.
Other films include Six Days in June (about the Six Day War); Sumur (about the Lebanese Beduin); Tsunami (a humanitarian tragi-comedy); Children of the Sun (about kibbutz life and expectations), and A Perfect Family (which examines prejudice in Israeli society).
The Forum is sponsored by a long list of organizations, including the Cesaria Rothschild Fund, the Israel Film Council, the European Commission Delegation in Israel (EU), various embassies, Reshet Bet, Arutz Shmone, The Ministry of Sport and Culture and the Rich Foundation.
The Israeli Forum for International Documentary Co-Productions will take place from May 25-28 at Eshkol Hapais, Rehov Ha'arva'a, near the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The public is invited to attend the pitching sessions on May 26, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and May 27, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (NIS 20); the Narration Workshop on May 27, 6 p.m. (free); and the Gala Screening of Why We Fight, on May 28, 7 p.m. (regular Cinematheque ticket price).