Documenting the country

Doc Aviv travels South, giving local filmmakers an opportunity to showcase their work on their home turf.

over 30 Avigail Sperber’s ‘Probation Time’. (photo credit: Courtesy)
over 30 Avigail Sperber’s ‘Probation Time’.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Back in the early 1960s, there was a wonderful documentary series in which a BBC reporter roamed Britain and talked to the ordinary folk on the street, and in their homes. On the face of it, that doesn’t exactly sound like a remarkable media milestone, but in fact, as a journalist noted many years later, it was the first time people across the UK heard an accent that hadn’t come out of the rarefied, cloistered environs of Oxford and Cambridge.
In so doing, the series “introduced Britain to itself” – and the Doc Aviv Festival may very well have a similar nationwide impact.
The country’s leading documentary film showcase event started life in 1998, and has been based at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque ever since. However, six years ago Doc Aviv began running a somewhat pared-down edition in Ma’alot-Tarshiha in the Galilee.
This was not just a matter of making quality documentaries available to Israelis living in the periphery; the idea was also to provide a platform for local documentarians – professional and budding alike – to strut their stuff and tell their own story, from their stomping grounds.
Now, folks in the Negev will have a similar opportunity, when Doc Aviv sets up its stall for the first time in Yeroham, from January 6 to 8. Artistic director Sinai Abt is naturally delighted that the festival is expanding its hinterland. “The kudos should go to festival director Galia Bador, who puts in a lot of effort to bring Doc Aviv to all corners of the periphery,” notes Abt. “We are very excited the festival is also going to Yeroham.”
There is plenty to see, hear and even taste lined up for the three-dayer in the South. The movie roster features works based on the festival theme of identity, and includes an intriguing offering from Moroccan-born French director Kamal Hachkar called Tinghir-Jerusalem, Echoes from the Mellah, subheaded “The Rediscovery of a Judeo-Berber Culture.” Hachkar’s family hails from Tinghir, a town in southeast Morocco near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, which had a thriving Jewish community before the mass exodus of Jews to Israel and elsewhere in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
Hachkar, who visits Israel frequently and even speaks some Hebrew, says he grew up with the idea that all Berbers were Muslim. “In Tinghir, my hometown, speaking with my grandparents made me realize that some Berbers were Jewish, and that in many a village, Muslims and Jews had lived together for a long time.”
Hachkar became engaged in the topic and began researching the history of the Jews in that region of Morocco, both in Tinghir and in Israel. “I talked to members of the older generation and was soon led to Israel, where I went and met some families originally from Tinghir,” explains the director. “Here as there, older people told me about their lives and answered my questions: How did these two communities live together? How and why did they separate so suddenly and forever? And why such a blackout now about this fact?” It is safe to say the “blackout” dissipated, at least in part, with the screening of Hachkar’s fascinating film.
Hachkar will be one of the star guests in Yeroham next week, with the other A-listers including TV personality Tzufit Grant, Beersheba-born director, writer and actor Maor Zaguri and award-winning Yeroham-born director, scriptwriter and producer David Deri.
While the Israeli film industry has picked up appreciably in recent years, the documentary sector has been making great strides for some time now. “Israeli documentaries do very well around the world,” says Abt, “and in the last few years we sense there is greater interest in documentaries among the Israeli public. Audiences at the Doc Aviv Festival in Tel Aviv this year grew by over 30 percent, and there were more people at the screenings at Ma’alot this year, too.”
Abt and his cohorts are also putting in plenty of footwork to get documentaries out to people at other venues around the country as well. “During the course of the year we have held over 200 documentary screenings at all kinds of cultural and other centers, in places like Kfar Blum and Ramat Hasharon,” continues Abt. “The level of interest is growing all the time.”
Abt is certainly doing his bit to keep us on board, by offering a wide range of themes and styles of documentary works from all over the world. French director Pascal Plisson’s Sur le chemin de l’école (On the Way to School) offers a cross-cultural glimpse of challenges faced by socioeconomically disadvantaged children in different cultures, while Iceland-born Canadian director Sturla Gunnarsson’s Monsoon provides an aesthetically powerful look at how the forces of nature shape life in India, and both wreak destruction and fuel rebirth.
Then there is Norwegian filmmaker Mona Friis Bertheussen’s moving portrayal Twin Sisters, of how twin sisters from China, separated as babies and adopted by families in Norway and America, finally get to reunite; and Searching for Sugar Man by Oscar-winning Swedish documentarist Malik Bendjelloul, which details the efforts of two South African fans of Mexican-American musician Sixto Rodriguez to find out whether Rodriguez was really dead, and if not, to discover what became of him.
There is also plenty to enjoy from this part of the world, including Nitzan Ofir’s Almost Friends, about an unlikely friendship between a 12-year-old Israeli-Arab girl and an 11-year-old girl who was born on a settlement in Gush Katif.
Music naturally lends itself to documentary coverage, and the Israeli side of the Doc Aviv roster in Yeroham includes an emotive portrait of indie artist Yehu Yaron, called The Self-Persuasive Artist, while Avigail Sperber’s Probation Time tackles the potentially contentious issue of a religious lesbian dealing with the double whammy of breaking up with her longtime partner and raising the child they had together.
There are some tasty tidbits to be had in Yeroham next week, too, with the Cooking a Story slot supervised by Sigalit Banai, in which six local women will regale their audience with personal stories and secrets of their cuisine, while putting together a delectable dish.
For more information about Doc Aviv Yeroham: