Northern frontier

DocAviv Galilee brings Tel Aviv-style culture to the periphery 521 (photo credit: Shalom Studio) 521
(photo credit: Shalom Studio)
It is a fair bet that the vast majority of Tel Avivians believe that entertainment and cultural pursuits in this country begin and end in their city and its environs. Indeed, there is some reason for that assumption – although it is, of course, far from accurate.
One of the best-attended venues in the Big City is the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, which, among dozens of other events, hosts the DocAviv Festival of documentary films and has grown appreciably over the last 15 years.
For the past five years, residents of the Galilee have also had convenient access to top-drawer documentary material, at the DocAviv Galilee Festival held annually in Ma’alot-Tarshiha. This year’s edition will take place from November 12 to 16, and according to DocAviv chief Galia Bador, the event not only offers quality entertainment and insight, it enriches social, cultural and artistic life in the North.
“I had been general manager of DocAviv for six months and the festival in Tel Aviv was over, and I wondered what I was going to be next. Then I came up with the idea of having the festival in the Galilee, too,” she recalls. “We really broke new ground in bringing such an event to the country’s geographic periphery.
We started totally from scratch.”
And, it must be said, Bador and her cohorts appear to be doing a good job. For starters, the festival program has grown from two to five days, and it has bonded with its physical and cultural milieu and taken on an identity of its own. “When we started the festival in the Galilee we brought the most attractive and marketable documentaries from the Tel Aviv program,” says Bador, “but it has gradually become a festival in its own right. It is not a copy-paste of anything else. Some of the films are shown at the Tel Aviv festival, and the Galilee festival is a sort of younger sibling of the Tel Aviv event, but it has its own character, new elements, special programs and premieres.”
There is one of the latter in next week’s festival, in the shape of the brand new series Hamekulkalim (The Cursed), created by Hagai Levi – who also wrote Betipul, which became a stateside hit as the HBO adaptation In Treatment. The new Levi offering is based on the drama-filled lives of four cultural icons, writer and poet Pinhas Sadeh, philosopher Moshe Krau, poet Yona Wallach and painter Aviva Uri.
Bador says the northern edition of DocAviv also sets its marketing sights lower, but strictly in an agegroup sense. “The festival appeals to much younger audiences,” she explains. “We tailor events and films for elementary-school kids, high school students and college students. We have things in the mornings, for younger children. The festival has become a vehicle for offering a different kind of education. We say that documentary film is, first and foremost, art, but it also offers an alternative viewing experience, which can generate dialogue and discussion and a more in-depth approach to life. That is something we don’t do in Tel Aviv at all. The festival in the Galilee opened up all sorts of possibilities for us, which feed off the region.”
As a Galilee-based event, DocAviv Galilee also aims to draw in audiences from across the ethnic board.
“We have events for Jews and Arabs, and material in Arabic, and the festival really brings people together,” notes Bador. “You’d think that would happen anyway in the Galilee, but it doesn’t really. The festival has really had impact in that respect too.”
ONE OF the most emotive documentaries in next week’s lineup is Handa Handa. The title of the film means “laugh, laugh” in Bukharan, and it focuses on the trials and tribulations – with not a little humor, albeit mostly of the darker ilk – of a young couple who are subject to intense pressure to tie the knot. They have been together for three years, and the parents on both sides, not to mention siblings and grandparents, are all anxious for the young man and woman to “do the decent thing.”
The young man is Ronen Davidov who, besides wanting to make his own decision in his own time, is a professional comedian and a student at the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio. His beloved, Orit, is also a student, and therein lies one of the problems. Davidov, as he states at the outset, would much rather wait until he and Orit have completed their studies before they hit the huppa.
While Handa Handa is about life and customs in the Bukharan community, as Davidov himself notes, many people can identify with the predicament in which he and Orit found themselves. “It happened to me, but it could happen to anyone and everyone in their own home,” he says, adding that his comedian’s take on life often came to the rescue.
“There is a lot of humor in the film, and there were all sorts of situations in which I could have just as easily gotten very angry and just walked away. But I have been a professional actor for the last 10 years, and have written texts for the Bukharan community. And I have experienced and heard all sorts of things from friends and about families, which are much worse than what I went through, in terms of how someone deals with his parent.
“Some go into depression because of things like that, some just disconnect, and there are others who say why don’t I turn this into something that could be put on stage and I can make money out of it,” Davidov observes with a laugh.
Indeed, Handa Handa – Davidov’s double act with his older brother, Hai, not the documentary – airs much of the Bukharan community’s social inner workings, and touches on the subject of marriage. It is an ongoing theme. “We have done four versions of Handa Handa so far,” explains Davidov, “but we are now starting with a new show, called Alte Zachen. It is more theatrical and is about a 30-year-old bachelor.”
In the end, everything works out for Davidov and Orit, and Davidov says he hopes the film conveys an important message. It is plainly a work that fits Bador’s description of documentaries that have social impact. “Maybe there are all kinds of young people out there who are in, and will find themselves in, a similar situation and it will help them make their own decisions,” he says. “My wife and I deliberated over making the documentary, but we decided that if it can be of any help to others, then we are willing to go through with it.”
IN ADDITION to the silver-screen stuff, there are several slots designed to get as many local residents involved as possible. One of the more intriguing ones is the Insideout project, an international framework in which local groups advance social objectives through artistic endeavors. The idea is to take a stand and to raise public awareness. The DocAviv Galilee version of the project comprises the photographic work of participants in the documentary film workshop, which takes place at the Brir Arts Center.
The members of the workshop took photographs of senior citizen women living in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, with the portraits exhibited in galleries and at various vantage points around the town. The thinking behind the photographs is to present people who have quietly contributed, over the years, to their families and society as a whole, and to finally give them their public due.
There will also be two master classes, presented by Eyal Sagi Bizawi and Yair Kedar. Bizawi researches Egyptian cinema and will talk about the iconic Arab movie that, in the days when Channel 1 was practically the only TV station you could watch here, was screened on Friday afternoons. “We all used to watch it,” recalls Bador. “I’m sure a lot of people – certainly the older ones – will enjoy that.” Meanwhile, Kedar will share his knowledge of and experience in animation, cinema and song.
Another inviting slot is the “First Showing” vehicle, which will unveil cinematic works-in-progress to the public. First Showing will allow filmmakers to meet members of the public and to benefit from feedback on their work even before it is finished.
“That is something you won’t get in Tel Aviv,” observes Bador. “It is an amazing thing. In any case, it is hard to get artists to expose their films to criticism, particularly works that are still evolving.
But at DocAviv Galilee, a few filmmakers will do that. They will present their work to a different kind of audience than you’d get in Tel Aviv, and they say: ‘I respect you, and I want to hear what you think of my work-in-progress.’ That is special.”
There are a couple of imports in the festival program, including American- Israeli co-production Dancing in Jaffa, made by Hila Medalia, in which an Israeli-born American realizes his dream of transposing his Dancing Classes project to this part of the world. Then there is Searching for Sugar Man, a Swedish-British documentary film directed by Malik Bendjelloul, which tells the tale of the efforts of two South Africans to find out whether the rumored death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez is true, and, if not, to discover what became of him.For tickets and more information about DocAviv Galilee: (04) 957-3050 and