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Israel’s Docaviv Festival to Focus on Women, Refugees for Landmark 20th Edition

Docaviv, Israel’s only festival devoted exclusively to documentary filmmaking, will celebrate its 20th birthday in May with a jam-packed screening schedule focusing on women’s empowerment, refugees and the ever-complicated politics of globalization. In the lineup are films about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and fashion designer Alexander McQueen.

The festival, considered one of the most prestigious documentary festivals in the world, takes place annually in Tel Aviv, with screenings across the city. This year, 121 films – both from promising Israeli documentarians and established international directors – will be shown at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and a number of other locations.

Among the highlights: Elwira Niewiera and Piotr Rosolowski will present “The Prince and the Dybbuk,” which won Best Documentary at the Venice Film Festival last year; Switzerland’s Markus Imhoof will compete in the international competition with “Eldorado,” his hard look at the current refugee crisis in Europe; and Maryam Ebrahimi, an Iranian director living in exile in Sweden, will make history by bringing to the Jewish state her deep dive into Iranian propaganda, “Stronger Than a Bullet.”

Ebrahimi will be in good company with a number of other strong female director. Julie Cohen and Betsy West are bringing “RBG,” a look at Justice Ginsburg that reveals the complicated woman behind the lace collar. Stefanie Brockhaus and her co-director, Andy Wolff, will present “The Poetess,” about the veiled Saudi poet Hissa Hilal. Irene Lusztig offers “Yours in Sisterhood,” a time capsule of 40 years of letters sent to the editor of the feminist bible “Ms.” magazine.

“This year’s rich program presents cinema that is a response to the current mood of women’s protest against the patriarchy, film that asks questions and examines itself,” says Karin Rywkind Segal, Docaviv’s artistic director.

Another anticipated offering is “McQueen,” director Ian Bonhote’s intimate look at the late fashion designer, who committed suicide in 2010. “McQueen” had its world premiere Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Docaviv celebrates its 20th birthday at a fraught moment. Israeli filmmakers are facing increased hostility and calls for censorship from the nation’s right-wing government, while Israeli films – including both narrative features like “Foxtrot” and deep-dive documentaries including “Dancing in Jaffa,” “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” (a joint Israeli-Palestinian directorial project – have never enjoyed more international respect.

Also this year, Docaviv will inaugurate an important new competition category: the documentary short. The winner will automatically be submitted as a nominee for the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film, akin to how the winner of Israel’s Ophir Award for Best Picture automatically becomes the nation’s nominee for the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film.

Judges at Docaviv include Hot Docs’ Shane Smith;  Josh Siegel, curator of motion pictures at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Alice Burgin, director of the Australian International Documentary Conference; and producers Hans Robert Eisenhower and Julia Ningham.

Docaviv runs May 17-26.

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