Beginning this Thursday, May 2 and running through Saturday, May 11, DocAviv: The Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival celebrates its 15th anniversary. More than eighty new documentary features, in addition to shorts and retrospective programming, spotlighting a diverse range of both Israeli and international work, will screen during the event, recognized as one of the key doc festivals in the region. It’s on my list of fests I’d love to attend at some point, but, sadly, this year’s not the year. What follows are some highlights of feature docs appearing there that I’d be most interested in viewing:
In addition to an Audience Award, inaugurated for this year’s edition, DocAviv features three competitions: Israeli, International, and Student. A dozen homegrown titles vie in the first category, with only a couple recognizable from the lineups of other recent fests. Of the ones that are brand new, I’m curious about: Yotam Feldman’s THE LAB (pictured), an investigation into the connections between the Occupied Territories and the Israeli arms industry; Noga Nezer’s MY ARAB FRIEND, in which the Israeli director tries to track down her missing Palestinian friend; Vitali Krivich’s HOUSE OF FUN, following Russian adolescent immigrants as they attempt to fit in to Israeli society and identity; Michal Aviad’s WOMEN/PIONEERS, a look at the European women who came to Palestine a hundred years ago to plant the seed for what would become Israel; Isri Halpern’s POLE, DANCER AND A MOVIE, which uses an Israeli poledancing studio to consider the changing status of contemporary Israeli women; and Ram Loevy’s LET’S ASSUME, FOR A MOMENT, THAT GOD EXISTS., the filmmaker’s existential meditation on the potential heretical nature of his own films.
Another dozen films appear in the International Competition, which features a large number of titles familiar from the doc fest circuit of the past year or so. I’ve already covered more than half elsewhere, though I haven’t yet had a chance to write about Ivars Zviedris and Inese Klava’s DOCUMENTARIAN, an at times comically absurd exploration of the relationship between the filmmaker and his prickly subject, a foulmouthed, potentially violent, solitary old woman. Other titles that I haven’t seen yet include: Esther Hertog’s IDFA-winning SOLDIER ON THE ROOF, a look at life among the Jewish settlers of Palestinian Hebron; Martin Otter’s THE ABSENCE OF SHADOW, about a Vietnamese man whose blindness has inspired his work as a writer; Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s SEARCHING FOR BILL (pictured), a hybrid road trip doc exploring America as one man searches for the man who stole his car; and Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s DANUBE HOSPITAL, a thoughtful exploration of one of the largest hospitals in the world.
Six films take part in the Student Competition, including three features: Noam Keidar’s YOUR SWEET LIGHT, about a young couple’s efforts to provide sanctuary for Jewish backpackers in India; Anna Somershaf’s HOLYLAND (pictured), about a Ghanaian immigrant who helps other immigrants in Tel Aviv, but is haunted by having left his eldest son behind; and Vered Argaman’s WAITING FOR SUNRISE, about the struggles a pre-teen boy faces, despite his mother’s unconditional love.
The bulk of DocAviv’s remaining programming is the non-competitive Special Screenings section. The more than fifty titles here offer a diverse panorama of recent international nonfiction, including a few that I’ve seen but haven’t covered here yet: Ganit Ilouz’s winning profile of a likeable, authentic Arab teacher in a Jewish elementary school, DOVE’S CRY (pictured); Oskar Alegria’s clever experimental ode to Man Ray, THE SEARCH FOR EMAK BAKIA; and Emmanuel Gras’ entrancing observational study of cows’ lives, BOVINES.
Among the Special Screenings that I haven’t seen, the following Israeli titles would be on my list: Honi Hameagel’s THE END (pictured), a consideration of the history and decline of Israeli’s cinemas; Avi Weissblei and Eliran Knoller’s THE CEREMONY, about an octogenarian’s role in commemorating Israel’s Independence Day; Or Sinai’s VIOLETA MI VIDA, following an immigrant mother’s preparations for her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah; and Ilan Yagoda’s SHKHUNA (NEIGHBORHOOD), looking at four elderly women and their daily talks on a neighborhood bench.
Finally, the international features in the Special Screenings catching my eye include: Moniek Van De Vall’s THE SCHOOL AS CITY, a profile of a Dutch architect who specializes in school designs; Angela Christlieb’s NAKED OPERA (pictured), a portrait of a wealthy, terminally ill, man who has a taste for opera and young male companions; Daniel Young’s PAUL BOWLES: THE CAGE DOOR IS ALWAYS OPEN, about the noted gay American author with a predilection for Morocco; and Andreas Pichler’s VENICE SYNDROME, which explores the transformation of the Italian city due to economic pressures, even as it faces an uncertain future due to climate change.