An acclaimed biopic about Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel, who has dedicated her life to representing Palestinian defendants charged by Israeli authorities, has been shortlisted for an Oscar.
“Advocate” is one of 15 films shortlisted in the Documentary Feature category, out of an original 159 submissions. The final five contenders will be announced next month.
The award-winning documentary, co-directed by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche, has been vociferously attacked by right-wing Israeli groups and Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev.
When “Advocate” won Best Picture at the DocAviv festival in Tel Aviv, Regev 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, [and] use terrorism against its soldiers and people”.
In awarding the film, DocAviv judges wrote that “Advocate” is “a thought-provoking project that addresses an important subject and demonstrates impressive cinematic skills, especially the innovative and intelligent use of animation… [It] sketches out a complex portrait of a strong and inspiring woman who believes in the justness of her path with all her heart.”
The award was greeted with outrage, and following an organised campaign, Israel’s state lottery company subsequently announced “it would be pulling its funding for future grants given to best picture winners at Tel Aviv’s documentary film festival”.