TikTok, Ukraine and so much more at this year’s Docaviv

Recent documentary films that will inform and inspire you will be showcased at the 24th edition of Docaviv – the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival.

 'NAVALNY' (photo credit: DOGWOOF)
(photo credit: DOGWOOF)

If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that nobody knows what is going to happen next, and that real life can be far more surprising than any scripted drama.

Recent documentary films that will inform and inspire you will be showcased at the 24th edition of Docaviv – the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival, which will take place from May 26 to June 5 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the Tel Aviv Museum, Beit Romano and other locations around the city.

For the first time this year, Docaviv will come to the Lighthouse in Tel Aviv, with an outdoor screening near the Yarkon Estuary, overlooking the Mediterranean.

For those who cannot make it to any of these locations, many of the films will be screened online in Israel. Details about the movies and the schedule are available on the Docaviv website at https://www.docaviv.co.il/ and ticket sales are now open.

The festival mixes screenings and special events such as master classes with filmmakers. There are competitions for both Israeli and international films, as well as for short films and student films.

 'TRENCHES’ (credit: UNITE) 'TRENCHES’ (credit: UNITE)

In a first, Yad Vashem has partnered with Docaviv and will present a prize for cinematic excellence in a documentary on the Holocaust, and Bianca Stigter’s Three Minutes: A Lengthening is this year’s winner.

This film, which is narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, presents a home movie shot by David Kurtz in 1938 in a Jewish town in Poland. The filmmakers researched the footage and illuminate the home movie with interviews with descendants of those from the town who went through the Holocaust.

Another new film that looks at the Holocaust is Yariv Mozer’s The Devil’s Confession: The Lost Eichmann Tapes.

A few weeks before the opening of the Eichmann trial, transcripts of recorded conversations between Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of the “Final Solution,” and a Dutch Nazi journalist, Willem Sassen, were given to Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner. These conversations took place a few years before Eichmann was captured by the Mossad and brought to Israel for a trial.

While Eichmann famously tried to portray himself as a bureaucrat who was only carrying out orders, these transcripts showed him boasting proudly of his significant role in the murders of millions of Jews.

For the first time, Docaviv is partnering with the TikTok app to sponsor a competition for short documentary films, from 30 seconds to three minutes long, with the theme, “The World is Here.” This competition is open now until May 22, and those whose films win the top three places will be awarded prize money totaling NIS 18,000. To enter, go to #tiktok_docaviv on the TikTok website.

Many films this year will illuminate issues currently in the headlines. As the US is roiled by battles over the legality of abortion, festival guests Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the directing duo who made RBG, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary, will present their new film, My Name is Pauli Murray, the story of a nonbinary black lawyer, activist and poet who influenced Ginsburg and whose ideas are seen to have paved the way for much of the legislation in the US about women’s rights.

Because many movies were not released as planned, due to the pandemic, Cohen and West have two other new films as well, Julia, a portrait of Julia Child, the American who popularized French cooking in the US, and Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, a look at the courageous US congresswoman who survived a horrific shooting.

A number of movies provide context for the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Daniel Roher’s Navalny looks at the life of Alexei Navalny, the dissident whose following threatens Russian President Vladimir Putin and who survived a serious assassination attempt. The movie follows his efforts to find definite proof that Putin was behind the poisoning that nearly killed him.

Loup Bureau’s Trenches looks at Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas and how they have coped with Russian bombardment. A halfway house for children in eastern Ukraine is the subject of A House Made of Splinters by Simon Lereng Wilmont. It is about how the threat of war caused even deeper fissures in the lives of children from already troubled families.

A number of films look at the arts. Kurt Vonnegut is a writer who was far ahead of his time, and his often turbulent life is documented in Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time – a title that is a reference to Slaughterhouse Five – directed by Robert Weide, who was a director on the series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Weide was a fan who wrote to Vonnegut when he was young and was bowled over when the author replied. The two formed a friendship, and the writer agreed to allow Weide to make a movie about his life, which he worked on for years.

Eva Vitija’s Loving Highsmith looks at Patricia Highsmith, the gifted author of such classic thrillers as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train. Highsmith was a lesbian who published the novel The Price of Salt, about a lesbian love affair, under a pseudonym. She was also a virulent, outspoken antisemite, and the movie examines her complex life.

Amelie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier’s Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel weaves clips of the legendary residents of that hotel from its heyday – among them, Jim Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, Nico and Leonard Cohen – juxtaposed with its present-day reality, where elderly residents who refuse to leave have had their lives disrupted by renovations that have been going on for more than a decade.

There are films that simply take you into worlds you would never otherwise get to see. Bentley Dean’s Facing Monsters is about a troubled Australian surfer who rides the waves to help himself cope with the demons that drove him to abuse drugs. Jakob Krese and Danilo do Karmo’s What Remains on the Way is a look at a woman and her children making their way from Guatemala to the US-Mexico border, hoping to find a better life.

The films from Israel provide a rich look into the diversity of life here. One of the highlights, Tal Inbar’s Closed Circuit, takes a look at a terrifying moment – the terrorist attack on the Max Brenner café at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv in 2016, in which four were killed – and looks at it through raw footage from security cameras and interviews with survivors, detailing how the lives of all the patrons and staff were changed by the violence of that night. Among the film’s producers is Nancy Spielberg, who made the documentary about the American pilots who helped create the Israel Air Force, Above and Beyond.

There are more fascinating movies on the program than can be included in a single article, but Docaviv is a festival that features something for everyone.