2019 Sundance Docs in Focus: ADVOCATE

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Philippe Bellaiche

Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche explore the Israeli justice system through a passionate Israeli attorney working for Palestinian defendants.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition


Sundance Program Description:

Israeli human-rights lawyer Lea Tsemel is a force that won’t be deterred. Having defended Palestinians against a host of criminal charges in Israeli courts for nearly five decades, she is a staunch supporter of compassion within the court system. Frequently subjected to harsh criticism in the press and in the public view, Tsemel remains optimistically steadfast in her belief that justice can be served.

In this impressive documentary, Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche masterfully juxtapose two of Tsemel’s cases, one professional and the other personal: the defense of a minor accused of attempted murder and a past case in which she defended her activist husband from an accusation of treason against the state. Delicately animated sequences conceal defendants’ identities as Tsemel frankly addresses their best possible chances for acquittal, while interviews with Tsemel’s adult children reveal her unique ability to see the humanity of those accused. ADVOCATE is an original, provocative film that both exposes the human fallout of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and provides hope for a peaceful resolution.

Some Background:

  • Rachel Leah Jones
    Past Sundance docs:

    GYPSY DAVY (2012)
    WALL (2005)

    Jones is a Berkeley-born, Tel Aviv-raised filmmaker whose socially and politically-engaged work has often focused on Israel and Palestine. This project, her third doc feature as director, received support from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program.

  • Philippe Bellaïche
    Past Sundance docs:


    Bellaïche makes his directing debut with this project, for which he also serves as cinematographer – a role he has played for past Sundance docs THE SETTLERS (2016), HOT HOUSE (2007), and GYPSY DAVY.


  • Paul Cadieux
    Past Sundance docs:


    Cadieux also produced fellow 2019 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition title GAZA. Among his past producing credits is the Oscar-nominated animated feature THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE.

  • Joëlle Bertossa

    This marks the first Sundance credit for Bertossa, who heads up Swiss production company Close Up Films and most notably co-produced the Oscar-nominated I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO.


Why You Should Watch:
Jones and Bellaïche have constructed an appealing profile of a fierce, principled woman, while at the same time offering insight into the inner workings – and systemic biases – of Israeli law for Palestinians.

More Info:

For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

1 Comment

Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

One response to “2019 Sundance Docs in Focus: ADVOCATE

  1. Pingback: DocuShuk | Advocate World Premier at Sundance Film Festival

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