Mifal Hapayis walks back support for documentary

National lottery trying to get out of giving prize money to film about Israeli lawyer who has represented and accused terrorists for nearly 50 years.

DocAviv festival 2018 (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
DocAviv festival 2018
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Following protests by bereaved families of terror victims, representatives of Mifal Hapayis announced on Thursday that they would curtail their support for winning films from the Docaviv film festival.
In a statement, the organization said: “The Mifal Hapayis board of directors decided to continue strengthening the arts and culture budget for the benefit of the local authorities. In addition, it was decided to discontinue funding for the award-winning film from Docaviv in the future. And to examine the issue of the current award through legal advice.”
This year, for the first time, Mifal Hapayis agreed to give a prize of NIS 150,000 to whichever film won the top award at Docaviv, to help with marketing it for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. The lottery would give NIS 100,000 when the filmmakers submitted the film for Oscar consideration and an additional 50,000 if the film was chosen for the Oscar shortlist.
The prize at the recently concluded festival this year went to Advocate, by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche. The film is a portrait of Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel, who has represented civil rights activists and accused terrorists for nearly 50 years, including Arafat Irfaiya, who is being tried for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher in Jerusalem in February.
The protest against the prize began in the beginning of June after the Choosing Life Forum of Bereaved Families, who were accompanied by the organization Im Tirtzu, began calling on Mifal Hapayis to cancel the prize.
Earlier this week, several bereaved families from the forum protested outside the offices of Mifal Hapayis, spilling red paint on the ground and calling the prize “spit in the faces of bereaved families and of the blood of our children that has been spilled.”
They also held signs with Tsemel’s quote about the Ramallah lynching in 2000: “What lynch? As if you could really think it was that.”
Previously, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev also asked Mifal Hapayis to distance itself from this film.
In response, some members of the public canceled their membership in Mifal Hapayis, but the exact number of cancellations could not be confirmed.
MANY IN the filmmaking community were not pleased by the Mifal Hapayis decision, which they saw as an attack on freedom of speech.
Tomer Heymann, one of Israel’s premier documentary filmmakers – whose film, Mr. Gaga, is the documentary seen by more Israelis than any other – said that on the one hand, “It says something positive about the film if it raises such antagonism and passion... You should create art not because of prizes but because you believe in it,” but noted that the problem is much bigger than this decision by the directors of Mifal Hapayis.
This controversy is “a symptom of something deeper, when the politicians get involved” with decisions about movies, he said. “These kinds of moves can make filmmakers censor themselves.” Mifal Hapayis, he said, “is mainstream and supported all kinds of strong and challenging films with their grants. But now, the mask is falling from the faces of the government and the establishment... Documentaries are about challenging the reality, and making society look at uncomfortable subjects through films. Sure, this film looks at a complex heroine, it should make you look at reality differently... If they withdraw their support for this film, which has won such a prestigious and reputable prize, there is no limit and no end to what the government will try to do to Israeli art.”
Barak Heymann, Tomer’s brother and the producer and director of the recent film Comrade Dov, said: “What is happening today is not only sad and worrisome, but also, and especially, a clear sign of the total surrender of almost all the governmental systems in the face of the violent racism and corruption of the leadership. I find a direct connection between the ease with which the justice system destroyed the life of a Palestinian accused of raping the seven-year-old girl; Bibi and his friends’ futile attempt to cancel the elections he himself initiated; and canceling the award for the important film by the important filmmakers Rachel Leah Jones and Philip Bellaiche.”
Gal Uchovsky, a leading Israeli journalist and movie producer, said that “it is a very disappointing decision on the part of Mifal Hapayis. There is an unpleasant nationalistic wave in Israel now. And Mifal Hapayis, of all organizations, should have been strong against populist decisions of this kind.”
Rinat Klein, director of Channel Eight, said: “We stand behind the film and its creators, and it will be shown as scheduled this coming Sunday.”
The award provided by Mifal Hapayis supplements a NIS 70,000 prize provided by the Howard Gilman Israel Cultural Foundation.

Tags Docaviv