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Docaviv responds to Israeli Culture Minister’s attack on Advocate


- Miri Regev has slammed the winner of the Best Film Award in Docaviv’s Israeli Competition

Docaviv responds to Israeli Culture Minister’s attack on Advocate
Lea Tsemel in Advocate

On Monday, Israel's Culture Minister, Miri Regev, launched an attack on the Docaviv-winning film Advocate [+see also:
film review
interview: Rachel Leah Jones, Lea Tsemel
film profile
 after she received a letter from the Choosing Life Forum of Bereaved Families (an organisation of the families of Israelis killed in Hamas attacks, supported by the right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu), the daily newspaper and website Haaretz reported on Tuesday. 

The film by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche, which won the Best Film Award in the Israeli Competition (see the news), tells the story of Lea Tsemel, a lawyer known for defending Palestinian political prisoners accused of terrorism in Israeli courts. She is often called the "Devil's Advocate" by her critics. 

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Referring to the fact that Advocate is now eligible for Academy Awards, thanks to its win at Docaviv (but also at the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival and the Krakow Film Festival), Choosing Life wrote: “That same Tsemel, for over five decades, has been representing terrorists who have murdered Israelis, among them many of our children, wives, husbands, siblings and other relatives. Funding the prize for a person defending terrorists in court is equivalent to spitting in the faces of the bereaved families. This crazy film is supposed to represent the State of Israel in the international Oscars contest, which is astonishing and repugnant.” 

Of course, films in the Best Documentary category at the Oscars are not selected, presented nor promoted by the state, unlike the films in the Best Foreign-language Film category.

Regev did not comment on this fact and instead condemned “the choice to make a movie focusing on a lawyer who represents, supports and speaks in the name of many who undermine the State of Israel’s existence, use terrorism against its soldiers and people, and win legal and public support from Tsemel.” She also called on Mifal Hapayis, the national lottery company that funded the movie, to reject the prize, writes Haaretz.

Regev is known for her incendiary statements and attempts to control and censor the Israeli film industry, especially the autonomous, non-governmental funds that are often crucial for the financing of arthouse and documentary films. Right after her comments were published, the Culture Ministry issued a statement saying, “This prize is funded by the Payis council for culture and art, which is a body of the Finance Ministry and Union of Local Authorities, which isn’t connected to the Culture Ministry.”

Cineuropa reached out to Docaviv, which is partly funded by the Culture Ministry, for comment, and its artistic director Karin Rywkind Segal told us: "Docaviv is a documentary film festival, and as such, the films in its programme show reality, as documented by the very best local and international filmmakers. Great movies can entertain and amuse, but they can also raise pointed questions about the reality we live in, often showing sides of it that are controversial and complex. Each year, a selection committee hand-picks the films to be screened at Docaviv that year. An independent jury of film-industry professionals then rates the movies and chooses the winners. The awards go to the filmmakers, not to the films' subjects." 

We also asked director Rachel Leah Jones for comment, but we had not received a response at the time of writing.

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