Much-anticipated Docaviv opens in Tel Aviv

Films about politics, social issues star alongside stories of musicians and ‘hilltop youth.’

‘Citizenfour' movie (photo credit: PR)
‘Citizenfour' movie
(photo credit: PR)
The 17th edition of Docaviv, the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival, is set to take place at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque from May 7 to May 16 this year.
The highly anticipated festival will open with the Oscar-winning “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’s historic documentary about Edward Snowden, who blew the whistle on the US National Security Agency by revealing documents that showed its widespread surveillance of American and foreign citizens.
Snowden contacted Poitras directly and she interviewed him and some of the journalists to whom he revealed his evidence in a Hong Kong hotel room just before they went public with the information.
This documentary has the tension of a thriller, and if you didn’t watch what you said in your emails before you saw this, you will afterwards.
A number of distinguished guests will attend the festival. Among these will be Brett Morgen, the director of “Cobain: Montage of Heck,” a look at the life and music of the late, much-loved musician Kurt Cobain, who took his own life in 1994. Morgen will teach a master class at Docaviv. “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” the entertaining biopic of Hollywood director Robert Evans that Morgen co-directed with Nanette Burstein will also be screened at the festival.
Gayle Kirschenbaum, the director of “Look at Us Now, Mother!” will be on hand at screenings of her funny, sad and unusually honest documentary about how she healed her troubled relationship with her mother.
Other Docaviv guests include Cherelle Zheng (Zhen Qiong), founder of Beijing Channel Zero Media, the only production company in China specializing in documentaries; David Courier, senior content manager at the Sundance Film Festival; Ina Rossow, festival coordinator for Deckert Distribution; and Niklas Engstrøm, head of content in the International Documentary Film Festival in Copenhagen, CPH:DOX.
A highlight of the Special Screenings program will be Alex Gibney’s “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” a groundbreaking look into the inner workings of Scientology.
Like Citizenfour, several of the films in the International Competition focus on politics and social issues. Jean-gabriel Périot’s “A German Youth” looks at the young intellectuals who founded the Baader-Meinhof Gang, a radical terrorist group in post-war West Germany.
Chad Gracia’s “The Russian Woodpecker” is about Fedor Alexandrovich, a Russian artist who lived near the Chernobyl nuclear plant and was sent to an orphanage at age four after the disastrous accident there in 1986. Twenty nine years later he returns to visit what has become a ghost town. Gracia will be present at the screenings of his film.
One of the most unusual stories is the one told in Crystal Moselle’s “The Wolfpack,” the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, about a family of siblings who grew up almost completely housebound in New York City. Their parents were suspicious of the outside world, but allowed them to watch thousands of movies, and they turned their family into a kind of repertory company that creates slavishly detailed reenactments of movies, among them “The Usual Suspects,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Reservoir Dogs.”
“My Love, Don’t Cross That River” by Mo-young Jin tells the story of a Korean couple in their late 90s who have been married over 76 years, and how deeply in love they still are.
This year’s Israeli Competition is especially rich, and it features subjects that reflect the diversity of Israel’s population. Most of the Israeli directors will be present at all the screenings of their films, the festival website has full details.
One of the most acclaimed films is Mor Loushy’s “Censored Voices.”
It examines the project undertaken by a group of young kibbutzniks, led by Amos Oz, to interview soldiers just after the Six Day War.
These interviews formed the basis for the book, The Seventh Day: Soldiers Talk about the Six Day War.
This book was a bestseller, but few people knew that some of the conversations that the military considered controversial were censored. This movie presents those conversations for the first time, along with commentary by Oz and others who participated in the project.
Noa Roth’s “Family Matters” looks at the story of her own family, and how her parents’ divorce – her father was an esteemed rabbi and her mother went on to become an author – shook up the Bnei Brak community where they lived. It traces the paths of the family members, some of whom have remained ultra- Orthodox, others of whom have become secular.
Suicide in the military is one of the biggest taboos in Israel, and Assaf Banitt’s “Against Your Will” looks at the struggle of one family who lost two sons to suicide during their army service to discuss their grief openly on the religious kibbutz where they live.
Itzik Lerner’s “God’s Messengers” is a rare glimpse into the world of the so-called hilltop youth of Gilad Farm, one of the most controversial illegal outposts on the West Bank.
Docaviv features a special focus on art, music and literature. An award will go to films in the Art and Culture Program, which focuses on Israeli culture. Among these is “Arab Movie,” directed by Eyal Sagui Bizawe and Sara Tsifroni.
If you are of a certain age, you will remember that in Israel’s pre-cable television era, when there was only one channel, every Friday afternoon, an Egyptian movie was shown. Huge numbers of Jewish Israelis watched, along with Arabs.
The movie examines how this amazing phenomenon, which Israelis at the time took for granted, came about.
Also in this section is “Clockwork Doll – Dahlia Ravikovitch,” a portrait of the celebrated poet. Like Yona Wallach, who was the subject of this year’s biopic, “Yona,” Ravikovitch struggled with depression, and was able to express herself through her work.
She changed the face of Israeli poetry with her vivid imagery and intensely felt poetry.
There are more than a dozen films about art, among them Thomas Burstyn’s “Some Kind of Love,” a portrait of the eccentric British artist Yolanda Sonnabend, and her troubled relationship with her brother, a New York-based AIDS researcher.
The music section features screenings at the Tel Aviv Port in addition to showings at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. Fans of Israeli music will want to see “Matti Caspi – Confession,” by Dalia Mevorach and Dani Dothan, a look at the complex and sometimes troubled life of this beloved musician.
For more information and to order tickets, go to the festival website at