Variety is in the spotlight at Docaviv, Tel Aviv’s annual film fest

130 documentaries to be screened at the event, including two competitions of top Israeli offerings

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

From 'Mrs. G.' a documentary being shown at the 2019 Docaviv about Lea Gottlieb, the designer and founder of Gottex Swimsuits (Courtesy DocAviv)
From 'Mrs. G.' a documentary being shown at the 2019 Docaviv about Lea Gottlieb, the designer and founder of Gottex Swimsuits (Courtesy DocAviv)

Tel Aviv’s Docaviv International Documentary Film Festival opens Thursday and runs through June 1 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, featuring documentaries on skateboarders, surfers and small towns; filmmakers’ mothers; famed industrialists and infamous politicians; dancers and musicians; humans who are healthy and those who are ill; and soaring pieces about nature and space and the people who explore them.

It’s Karin Rywkind Segal’s third year as the artistic director of the festival, and after 11 months of work — and more than 1,500 films watched by her and her staff — she’s ready to unleash this filmmaking bonanza upon its audience of viewers.

Choosing the 130 films for the event is an emotional process, said Rywkind Segal.

“Everyone has their taste, everyone wants something in and someone else doesn’t — there’s a lot of debate,” she said of her Docaviv staff. “Personal taste is very important, because you need to be very unique but you have these films that are big hits, that are very well done, and have very good audience potential and we want the audiences in Tel Aviv to experience them. If they were at the Toronto [Film Festival], we want them in Tel Aviv as well.”

There are ten programs within the festival: Israeli Competition, International Competition, Depth of Field, Panorama, Masters, Arts and Culture, Music, Shorts, Students and 360VR.

Most relevant for Israeli directors are the Israeli Competition and the Short Competition, as the winners of those are eligible for nomination to the Academy Awards, which pushes Rywkind Segal and her team to choose the best Israeli documentaries for screening.

As the largest competition in Israel for documentary films, they chose 15 full-length Israeli documentaries this year, and nine for the Israeli documentary shorts program.

Some 30 percent of the program is Israeli, drawing from the 100 or so full-length documentary films that are produced in Israel each year.

Karin Rywkind Segal, artistic director at the annual Docaviv documentary film festival, opening May 23, 2019 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (Courtesy Karin Rywkind Segal)

“That’s a lot for our country,” said Rywkind Segal. “I think it’s because our country, which is so political and complicated, is also a good place for creating stories, and Israelis are very good at telling stories.”

The festival aims to keep a steady balance between Israeli films and international ones. There are films from Arab countries that Rywkind Segal feels are missing from the Docaviv, having been made by filmmakers who won’t screen their creations in Israel, generally for political reasons.

Rywkind Segal feels that loss and hopes it will change, as the festival is missing “great films,” she said.

As for what to see this year, she recommends catching the Israeli films on the roster, as the festival provides an opportunity to view the films when they are premiering in Israel, often with the filmmaker on hand.

There are other screenings in this nine-day event that are also well worth viewing. One of Rywkind Segal’s favorite programs is Depths of Field, featuring films that  experiment with the documentary genre and offer different types of storytelling with regard to imagery and material.

She pointed out “Sherman’s March,” Ross McElwee’s restored film that began as an attempt to follow General Sherman’s campaign to conquer the South during the American Civil War and gradually became a personal contemplation about the possibility of finding love.

The opening film of the festival, “Picture of His Life,” made by filmmaker pair Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, is part of the Israeli competition. It focuses on nature photographer Amos Nachoum, who has photographed many long-sought creatures, but has always dreamed of swimming underwater with a polar bear and capturing it on film, and is determined to succeed as he nears the end of his career.

“Golda” is another long-anticipated film, featuring parts of a long-ago television interview with Golda Meir that has never been seen, as she made her case to be Israel’s prime minister.

The festival includes a series of outdoor events, including the May 27 screening of “Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation” at Tel Aviv’s former drive-in theater, (now the location of the sports fields in Ganei Hataarucha), where viewers can drive onto at 7 p.m.

Finally, viewers can put their toes into the sand while watching surfer film “Momentum Generation” at Tel Aviv’s Hilton Beach on May 26. The audience will be able to watch from a blanket on the sand, or with a reservation at the Hilton Bay Restaurant.

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