During the turbulent times we are experiencing in Israel and the challenges that the entire world faces to due to climate change, the war in Ukraine and many other events, Docaviv – the Tel Aviv International Documentary Festival that runs this year from May 11-20 – has never been more welcome.
The festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, will take place at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and other venues around the city, including the Tel Aviv Museum, the Suzanne Dellal Centre and Beit Romano. I’ve been covering this festival for a long time and it has always provided excellent documentaries on a diverse range of subjects, from Israel and around the world but this is the strongest lineup I’ve ever seen and virtually anyone who reads the full list of films (https://www.docaviv.co.il/2023-en/) will find something they want to see.
The opening-night movie will be The Child Within Me, a portrait of Israeli singer/songwriter, Yehuda Poliker by Eti Aneta and Yaniv Amoday. Poliker, one of Israel’s musical giants, is the son of Greek Holocaust survivors, and the story of his life is shown in interviews, concert footage, reminiscences by friends and never-before-seen home movies.
Climate change, the overarching contemporary issue which is becoming more urgent with every passing day, is the subject of a new program, Docaclimate, which will feature an augmented reality exhibition ( XR ) which will include 40 works created with virtual reality technology ( VR ) and augmented reality ( AR ) by Israeli and international creators, who deal with the themes of ecology, environment and human-nature relations and work out of a strong desire to tell the current story of the threat to the earth. The exhibition has been organized as a route that will start outside the Cinematheque, where 15 VR stations will be placed.
The project was created in collaboration with the director of Authority for the Environment and Sustainability of the Municipality of Tel Aviv and the director of Sustainability of Dizengoff Center, and funded by the Lottery Council for Culture and Art. There are also many films that explore the natural world and climate change, among them Patrick and the Whale, Mark Fletcher’s film about undersea photographer Patrick Dykstra, who has spent years swimming with and photographing these marine giants.
Ukrainian journalist to present documentary on Russian siege of Mariupol
Mstyslav Chernov, a Ukrainian journalist, is one of the festival guests, and he will present his film, 20 Days in Mariupol, which looks at the Russian siege of that town and the carnage of the ongoing Russian attempt to invade Ukraine.
John Battsek, a producer of Looking for Sugarman, one of the most entertaining documentaries of all time, will give a master class after a special screening of the Oscar-winning film, which tells the story of a troubled musician who worked as a manual laborer in Detroit, without realizing – in pre-Internet times – that his album had become a huge hit in South Africa. Battsek also produced One Day in September, an acclaimed documentary about the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.
Father of video art
AMANDA KIM will be present at screenings of her film, Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV. Paik, an iconoclastic video artist, is known as the father of video art. Other festival guests include Jakub Piatek, who will present Pianoforte, his look at the Chopin Piano Competition; Lea Glob with Apolonia, Apolonia, her portrait of a Bohemian artist Apolonia Sokol; Vinay Shukla with, While We Watched, a look at the work of crusading Indian journalist Ravish Kumar, who fights misinformation from many sources; and Lukasz Konopa with Theatre of Violence, his look into the story of a man who was kidnapped at age nine and forced to serve as a child soldier in Uganda, and later became the first child soldier to be indicted in the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
The rich Arts and Culture section includes Vishniac, a new documentary about the acclaimed photographer Roman Vishniac, who became one of the world’s best-known nature photographers and who is also remembered for the brilliant photographs he took of Eastern European Jewish communities, which he photographed until the moment when he had to flee. Vishniac was directed by Laura Bialis (Rock in the Red Zone), who will present at the screenings, and the movie was produced by Roberta Grossman and Nancy Spielberg.
Most of the filmmakers will be present at screenings of the films in the Israeli competition, which will include Once Upon a School by Yair Agman and Tel Becher, a look at the complex history of the Midrashia, a yeshiva high school; Limor Pinhasov’s My Project X, about a woman who interviewed murderers all over the world, including Charles Manson, in an attempt to understand her stepfather, a Mossad agent who murdered his informant; and The Center, a movie by Kobi Farag and Morris Ben-Mayor about the secrets behind Dizengoff Center.
Music has always been an important component of Docaviv and, in addition to the opening-night movie, the festival will include such films as Lisa Cortes’ Little Richard: I Am Everything, a look at the life of the iconic performer, who struggled with his sexuality and who reportedly converted by Judaism at one point. Days of Pick by Ron Omer and Shai Lahav tells the story of the hugely popular Israeli rock star Zvika Pick, who had a dramatic life and who eventually became Quentin Tarantino’s father-in-law. Joan Baez I Am a Noise tells the story of the beloved folk singer/activist, while Love to Love You, Donna Summer looks at the sexy pop diva. Martin Scorsese’s Personality Crisis: One Night Only explores the life of David Johansen, who rose to fame as the lead singer for the New York Dolls and was known by the name of his alter ego, Buster Poindexter.
Filmmakers are also a subject of Docaviv and there will be documentaries about Alfred Hitchcock, My Name is Alfred Hitchcock by Mark Cousins, and Jane Campion, the Cinema Woman by Julie Bertuccelli, about the Oscar-winning director.
There are also many special events and master classes, so visit the festival website for the full program.