Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

DocuShuk-CoPro Market: A few (virtual) days in Tel Aviv

Held mostly virtual between May 31st and June 4th, the 2021 edition of the DocuShuk-CoPro Market in Tel Aviv, its 23rd, presented a rich variety of high-profile Israeli documentary projects at different stages of production. From Tomer Heymann’s brand new film I Am Not having its world premiere at DocAviv soon, to The Therapy and Wedding Night to be finished in the second half of the year, to The Rollout and The Web’s End still in production – the projects showed astonishing, well researched footage, put in a frame of thoughtful composition.

Against a background of the next wave of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the ongoing change of the former’s government, there were several projects shedding a new light on the history and nuances of the region’s ages-long relationships. Especially a picture of a recent history of one street in Hebron, shown in H2 by Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf, presents a striking image of depth and complexity of nowadays situations that has its roots buried in biblical times. Nurit Kedar’s # Schoolyard looks, in turn, into a case in Lebanon in 1982, when Israeli soldiers lost control and started killing and torturing prisoners, while Zohar Wagner’s Savoy goes back to a 1975 guerilla attack on the Savoy hotel in Tel Aviv to re-examine a role Kochava Levi played in negotiations between Arab fighters and Israeli forces.

H2 (in production), a film by Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf

Connections and consequences

Journeys to Israeli past and its wide international connections and consequences have been a focus for some of the films aiming to reexamine and form new approaches to certain parts of social life. Exceptionally rare materials and archives gave rise to a picture of Arthur J. Finkelstein – a political consultant to Republican US Presidents (Ronald Reagan, among others), as well as to Israeli and other countries’ Prime Ministers: A Dancer Has to Dance by Eado Zuckerman. In extraordinary look behind-the-scenes of the world politics, we can see mechanisms of producing the political majority that gave power to figures on front pages of world media for over four decades. Similarly eye-opening could be a wide view on a few decades of the Israeli Kibbutz volunteer movement in Europe in Apples & Oranges by Yoav Brill. For over 30 years, there were thousands of young people from Western and Northern Europe coming to Israel each year. What they were doing in Kibbutz, how their work was used by the Israeli state, and why the movement suddenly stopped in the late 1990s are the questions the filmmaker attempts to find answers to. A bit more entertaining, but certainly very telling in terms of how social life shape personal stories, will be the new film by Hilla Medalia and Erez Laufer: Wanted: Roni Kalderon. A story of Roni Kalderon, a legendary talent of soccer that once played in the biggest world tournaments, have unexpectedly ended in the Brazilian prison, where he landed as a drug lord with a heavy sentence.

Against a background of the next wave of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and the ongoing change of the former’s government, there were several projects shedding a new light on the history and nuances of the region’s ages-long relationships.

The other side of life

On the other side of social life, several of the projects document a Jewish orthodox community from different angles. The most gripping – the Wedding Night by Rachel Elitzur, whose Covered Up has been reviewed by MTR before – focuses on what happens behind the closed doors of a special room in which newlyweds are being isolated during the Jewish ritual of marriage. Growing up in complete separation from the opposite sex, brought to the room by their dancing families and friends in the midst of celebration, both young women and men, are suddenly thrown into the most intimate situation. With elders waiting outside and their voices coming into the room, the young feel enormous social, psychological, and religious pressure connected to breaking the taboo. The director approaches this sensitive topic with intelligence and care interlacing testimonies of both women and men with visuals of a complex, traditional marriage ritual. The result is a captivating and stunning picture of how centuries-old ways of thinking still shape our times and lives.

Supported by the Sundance Documentary Fund, highly anticipated, observational The Therapy by Zvi Landsman unveils restricted areas of the Jewish Orthodox community practice of conversion therapy, aiming at «healing» homosexuals. Two characters, both at different stages in life, struggle in attempts at finding consolation between inner needs and the outside world’s visions of «what is proper» – the scenes of therapeutic practices are mind-bending and give rise to serious ethical questions.

Also, a new project by Barak Heymann (Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?, Dani Karavan), features a space of escape from the pressures of ultra-Orthodox life in Capoeira in Front of God. We can see how the youngest members of community try to negotiate the limits of what is allowed by committing to fighting and sport that is deemed as «unnecessary», taking time that should be spent on studying Torah.

The Web's End, a film  by Daniel Najenson
The Web’s End, a film by Daniel Najenson

Art and technology

The motives of ultra-Orthodox upbringing mix with the recent technologies and the changes they bring to society in the Silver Uprising by Dan Shadur. Covering the most recent case in the country’s headlines, of Amos Silver – the mastermind creator of the TeleGrass application, dealing with marijuana – the film shows shadows of society plunged in the long trauma and PTSD of constant war. The dark sides of reality are also investigated in the partly animated project by Daniel Najenson – The Web’s End. The director goes into depths of the dark net, talking to people active in this officially unregulated space, in order to see if it is a place full of dangers or a last resort of true freedom. The new technologies, their development, and the price many people involved have to pay are at the center of a thought provoking picture of a Silicon Valley AR start-up in The Rollout by Eran Raz and Daniel Lazo. The individual force of convictions and ability to convince others meet with dreams and hopes of hundreds of people from different strata of society (from investors to those employed at the company), who later have to face a tough test of reality.

The mixture of dreams and reality usually finds its best exploration in art and its various manifestations, and this is the case of a few upcoming Israeli projects. Notably King Tubby – The Dub Inventor by Ariel Tagar, which brings justice to the legend of dub music, and Omer Shamir’s Empathy being a sophisticated, charming picture / installation of an artist transforming his struggle with illness into a social, community forming process.

Some of these films will premiere at the forthcoming Docaviv, while others are planned to be launched later in the year – but one thing is certain: as in previous years, Israeli filmmakers will again bring us many topics, footage, and questions to think about for a long time.

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Aleksandra Biernacka
Aleksandra Biernacka
Anthropologist and sociologist of culture. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

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