Pitch perfect

Documentary films in the making seek audience at annual CoPro event

Commissioning editors, network executives, film fund managers, distributors and producers gather to review promising works in progress

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Documentary filmmaker Margje De Koning moderates the CoPro Documentary Market pitching event June 5, 2023 (Courtesy CoPro)
Documentary filmmaker Margje De Koning moderates the CoPro Documentary Market pitching event June 5, 2023 (Courtesy CoPro)

About 200 people gathered Monday to pitch and be pitched at CoPro, the annual Israeli Coproduction Documentary Market taking place June 5-8 in Tel Aviv.

The pitching forum — previewing Israel’s most promising documentaries in the works — had an audience of commissioning editors, network executives, film fund managers, distributors and producers.

The projects are carefully chosen by the CoPro team, said CoPro executive director Pnina Halfon-Lang.

“Most of them will happen, but need more money to finish production,” said Halfon-Lang. “We bring these people to see if maybe they’ll join in.”

Trailers for 12 projects were screened, with short introductions by the directors and producers, followed by a brief set of questions from three industry executives.

Many of the documentaries were seemingly unrelated to Israel, but that’s not unusual for Israeli filmmakers, said Halfon-Lang.

“We look for balance,” she said. “Politics are important but the world is sometimes a little fed up by our politics.”

CoPro films have to be made by an Israeli filmmaker, but topics range far and wide.

The Monday morning roster included “Berlin Chic,” a documentary about the Nazis’ decimation of the Berlin Jewish fashion industry, using rare archival material to tell this story for the first time. The panel agreed that it required better storytelling.

In “One Street in Silwan,” filmmaker Bissan Tibi tells the story of two Palestinian girls growing up in Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood being settled by Jews and closely guarded by the Israeli army.

When Tibi used the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the situation in the neighborhood, a panel member from French TV commented that the term is a strong word in Europe, while PBS’s POV coordinating producer Robert Chang said the film needed more background information.

In “Guilt,” Roni Aboulafia tells how Israeli writer Danna Harman worked to save several dozen Afghan women following the US pullout from Afghanistan in August 2021, while “Kichka” from veteran documentary filmmaker Gad Aisen is about caricaturist Micha Kichka, his Holocaust survivor father and Kichka’s own imminent retirement.

In “Left Behind Children,” filmmaker Shosh Shlam examines lonely economic orphans in rural China whose parents left them to work abroad as a lens for examining her own past with a Holocaust survivor father and his “impenetrable wall of silence.”

“It’s a quest to reach my own soul,” said Shlam, who described herself as a “lonely daughter,” and whose producer is a Turkish German whose family migrated to Germany, leaving his brother and sister behind temporarily.

There was a quirky story behind “The Amazing Tale of The Peace River Meteorite,” Yoav Shamir’s tongue-in-cheek documentary about a meteorite that crashed into a small town in northern Canada decades ago.

“There’s a need for films that also make us smile,” said Jordana Ross, commissioning editor for Canada’s CBC.

Margje De Koning, a documentary film producer from the Netherlands who acted as the pitching forum moderator, kept a friendly sense of order with banter throughout, often telling filmmakers and panelists to “go and have a chat” and reminding the audience what the gathering is meant to accomplish.

“It’s how to create films for the international market,” said Halfon-Lang. “We pick projects that have international potential, and we’re with the filmmakers the whole way, checking in on them, doing our own matchmaking for them.”

It’s the 25th anniversary of CoPro, and while many of the roundtables and industry events are closed to the public, there is a CoPro 25 Tribute at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque June 8 through 10, with a weekend of screenings of six films that found international funding at the CoPro Pitching Forum.

The films are “The Gatekeepers,” “Life in Stills,” “Mike Brant — Laisse Moi T’aimer,” “Children of the Sun,” “Forever Pure” and “Checkpoint.”

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