A stellar line-up at 10th Docaviv

Israeli documentaries have made dramatic strides since festival's inception a decade ago.

It's become a cliché that documentaries have been the most exciting category of filmmaking in the past few years, but it's one of those clichés that is absolutely true. That's why Israeli film lovers wait with great anticipation for Docaviv, the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival, which runs from April 3-12 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. This year, Docaviv is celebrating its 10th anniversary, which will be marked by a number of special events. The festival, which features the best of international documentaries, also has an Israeli competition and the movies that are shown there often go on to play at film festivals around the world, where they usually pick up a few prizes. We've begun to take that for granted here, but it's worth noting that when the festival began a decade ago, Israeli movies were few in number and often ignored around the world. Docaviv has both nurtured the Israeli documentary industry and benefited from the dramatic improvement in the quantity and quality of Israeli films. The Israeli competition is especially strong this year, with so many films the casual moviegoer will have a hard time choosing among them. After a number of years in which movies about social issues dominated, several of the Israeli films deal with political issues, but take an original approach to familiar questions. The movie that has generated the biggest buzz so far is Brides of Allah (Shahida), directed by Natalie Assouline, which won the Foreign Critics' Prize at this year's Berlin Film Festival. The movie is composed of interviews with would-be female suicide bombers and women who helped suicide bombers and are now serving time in Israeli prisons. The Hollywood Reporter noted that the film could be seen as a female companion piece to Paradise Now, and that it could be called "Paradise Postponed." Other political documentaries include Yonatan Ben Efrat's Six Floors to Hell, about Palestinian workers in Israel who live underground in an unfinished shopping mall near the Geha Highway; and My First War, Yariv Mozer's video diary of the second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. A little-known chapter in Israeli history is front and center in Shachar Magen's Strange Death, which looks at a family that may have been allied with the Turks during World War I and come into conflict with the Aharonson family, who spied for the British. Several of the films examine social issues, including Ada Ushpiz's Brides of the Desert, a look at educated Beduin women coping with polygamy; Iftach Shevach's Adama, the story of veteran farmers on Moshav Nahalal and how they are managing during changing times; The Boys from Lebanon, directed by Ohad Ofaz, examines the lives of the families of fighters from the South Lebanon Army who have been relocated to Israel; Uri Bar-On's King Lati the First, about a child of foreign workers in Israel who is told by his Senegalese father that one day he will return to rule their tribe in Africa; and Yidishe Mama, a film by Fima Shlick and Genadi Kuchuk, about a Russian immigrant who is upset when her son decides to marry a young woman from an Ethiopian family. The opening film, Yishai Orian's My Beetle, uses an ingenious technique to give a portrait of Israel today and how life has changed in recent years: The director becomes obsessed with his VW Beetle and searches for the car's former owners, who represent a cross-section of Israeli society. The movies in the international competition present a wide variety of subjects. Manda Bala, a hard-hitting documentary about corruption in Brazil, directed by Jason Kohn, deals with issues that will hit home with many Israelis. Yung Chang's Up the Yangtze looks at a million rural Chinese about to be displaced due to the construction of a huge dam, and deals with those left behind in China's march toward modernity. Kim Longinotto's Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go looks at a school for emotionally disturbed children in England. Citizen Havel is a detailed portrait of the charismatic Czech statesman, playwright and rock-and-roll fan. Other rock music fans will be pleased to hear that Martin Scorsese's Shine A Light, a concert film of the Rolling Stones, will be shown as part of the special screenings. A different kind of music is the focus of Autism: The Musical, about a group of autistic children who put on a musical performance. Joy Division is a look at the short, troubled history of that fabled band. These are just three of the 30 offerings in the Special Screenings division, which deal with a huge list of subjects. In addition to all of these programs, there will be a student film competition and short films. Several tributes include a retrospective of South Korean documentaries; a program devoted to the work of acclaimed director Nicolas Philibert, who has made such celebrated films as Etre et Avoir and Retour en Normandie; and a retrospective of films produced by Participant Media, including An Inconvenient Truth, Chicago 10 and Darfur Now. The Special Events feature meetings with documentary directors and producers from Israel and abroad, including Diane Weyermann, the executive vice president of Participant Media, and Simon Kilmurry, director of the POV division at PBS in America. You can learn more about all the films and events and order tickets on the festival's Web site, at www.docaviv.co.il. Remember, documentaries have become one of the main events in the film world, so you can expect many of the programs to sell out quickly.