(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, or TLV Fest as it is known locally, was born out of the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. In 2005, festival founder Yair Hochner was traveling with his first feature film, Good Boy, to film festivals in New York, Philadelphia, and LA. Hochner remembers, “I met an Israeli guy in LA, and we were joking around about why we didn’t have one in Tel Aviv. So when I got back, I decided to make one.”
The TLV Fest, which began last week and runs through till June 7, is now celebrating its 11th year of bringing the best features and short LGBT films from Israel and around the world to Tel Aviv every summer. It is the only LGBT film festival in the Middle East and has become a staple of Tel Aviv Pride week. Organizing this multi-day event is no easy task for Hochner, who has only a small crew and even smaller budget with which to work.
“It’s a very hard job, especially when you don’t get a salary,” Hochner adds. “Every year, it’s like starting from the beginning. But it’s a life mission.”
Over the past 11 years, TLV Fest has grown in scope and size, with each year bringing an increase in attendees and venues. Although the festival’s home base and faithful partner remains the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, which is the only openly gay-friendly theater in Israel, this year brings other changes for the festival. Hochner decided that it had become too big for the budget and the bare-bones crew to handle. The venues have been downsized from four to two, which means fewer movies to screen.
Because of the downsizing, Hochner and his team of selection committees had to be far more precise about which films made it into this year’s festival. There will be roughly 50 features and 80 shorts shown. The process of selecting the films involves committees for each category: there is a transgender, a lesbian and a gay committee. These committees sift through the hundreds of submissions and whittle the number down to a manageable size. “We want to show the newest and most unique movies,” Hochner says. “Sometimes there are really sweet and nice movies, but they’re from a year ago, and we must select the newer ones.”
Officially, TLV Fest has two focuses: women in the LGBT community (which is also the focus of this year’s Pride march), and also the Israeli AIDS task force. The festival will screen five films that deal with the subject of HIV in different ways. Holding the Man with Geoffrey Rush, and Strike A Pose, which focuses on the dancers from Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour, are two of the highlights in this category. Additionally, there is an array of special panel discussions after certain screenings. Another festival highlight will be the screening of the movie Kiki, which was shown at Sundance and won Best Documentary at a recent festival in Berlin. Kiki focuses on young boys and girls from the LGBT community in New York. The film’s director will also be in attendance.
Another important guest of this year’s festival is Lorenzo Vigas, who won the Golden Lion in the Venice Film Festival for his film From Afar. All in all, there are more than 30 special guests from all over the world, including Scottish actor Allan Cumming, and actress and comedian Lea Delaria from the television show Orange is the New Black.
When asked about the state of LGBT cinema in Israel, Hochner replies, “There are lots of shorts, and there are some good features, but I don’t think that there is a really strong and unique scene here. We have filmmaker Nadav Lapid; he is a unique voice in the Israeli and international scene. But for me, queer is more alternative or different. So for me, there is no queer cinema in Israel really. There was Amos Gutman in the ’80s and ’90s, who died from HIV in 1993.
He had a really special voice and way of telling a story through film.
He was queer and gay, in that sense. There are some amazing filmmakers in Israel doing interesting movies, but I don’t think there is one strong voice right now. We don’t have a Pedro Almodovar.”
For Hochner, the future of Israeli LGBT cinema remains unclear. He hopes that local filmmakers will continue to put out good movies and that they will get distribution outside of Israel. Hochner continues, “Unfortunately, now, most of the LGBT movies are not successful in the Israeli box office, so in the future, I hope that they will be.
This is why we have the TLV Fest, and it’s why we need it.”For more information or to order tickets, please visit http://tlvfest.com/tlv/he/en/home-page.