The most remarkable achievement of the fourth Israel Forum for International Documentary Coproductions (held on April 21 and 22 in Tel Aviv, alongside the Doc Aviv Documentary Film Festival) is that it happened at all.
In the weeks leading up to the event, tensions within the territory reached hair-raising levels. Palestinian suicide bombers killed or injured dozens of Israeli citizens and the Israeli military occupied the West Bank, confining Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to his Ramallah headquarters.
Not surprisingly, several of the international delegates who had planned to attend the Israel Forum, including some commissioning editors, opted out. But, the event organizers stubbornly refused to cancel and a few plucky program buyers from abroad managed to make it. In the end, 22 Israeli producers pitched their documentary ideas to a panel that included representatives from Belgium (Philippe van Meerbeeck, VRT), Canada (Rudy Buttignol, TV Ontario, Marie Natanson, CBC and moderator Pat Ferns, Banff Television Foundation), France (B. Hans Robert Eisenhauer, ARTE), the Netherlands (Annette Betsalel, NIK Media) and Switzerland (Esther van Messel, First Hand Films World Sales), as well as Israel.
Buttignol, head of docs, drama and network for tvo, has attended three of the four Israel Forums. He says he’s primarily drawn to the event for the quality of the projects, but felt an additional obligation to go this year as a show of support for the Forum organizers and participants. ‘You help your friends when times are hard,’ he notes. The following are some of the projects Buttignol pegged as strong pitches.
Paradise Lost is the 60-minute story of Paradise, an Arab fishing village that survived the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and now sits in the heart of Israel. The focus of the film is Sou’ad, a woman raised in the village who challenges traditional ideas of a woman’s place in Arabic society. Filmmaker Ebtisam Mara’ana plans to reveal how the history of Paradise and Sou’ad are intertwined by investigating the village’s secret past.
Produced by Binyamina, Israel-based Zygote Films, Paradise Lost raised interest from the Netherlands’ NIK Media and Belgium’s VRT, as well as tvo, Buttignol reports. In addition, an Israeli lottery fund awarded producer Duki Dor and director Mara’ana a cash award of ILS 10,000 (US$2,100) for presenting the most marketable pitch. Moderator Pat Ferns spontaneously threw in full registration to the Banff Television Festival (June 9 to 14). Budgeted at US$208,500, the doc is scheduled to wrap by April 2003. (The filmmakers also pitched Paradise Lost at Hot Docs, where the film sparked interest.)
Citizen Dayan is a one-hour profile of Israeli politician Moshe Dayan from Tel Aviv-based prodco Belfilms. Was Dayan (now deceased) an Israeli military warrior or a peace crusader? Filmmaker Liran Atzmor promises insight into this man of mystery.
Buttignol says TVO will definitely be involved in this project, adding that Atzmor is a filmmaker to watch. No Israeli channel has yet shown interest, but Buttignol says that is not a reflection on the project. Several Israeli broadcasters present said they don’t have enough money to pay filmmakers, he explains. Citizen Dayan carries a budget of $220,000 and is scheduled for release in September 2003.
Garden is a one-hour observational doc about four male prostitutes – from Israel, Palestine, Russia and Jordan – who occupy a spot in downtown Tel Aviv popularly referred to as ‘the Garden’. As young gay men, they all struggle for acceptance and survival, but three of the four boys face additional prejudice as immigrants.
Buttignol says he’s tempted to take a chance on this film, as he knows the work of filmmakers Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash. This is only their second film, but their first – Diamonds and Rust – played to great acclaim on TVO. Garden’s budget is in the $300,000 range, and although no other broadcaster had signed on heading into the Forum, Israel’s Channel 8 is negotiating with Shatz and Barash. The film is scheduled for delivery in September 2003.