Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘Advocate’

Hot Docs 2019: Our Review of ‘Advocate’

An Israeli human rights lawyer for Palestinians. It’s not the start of a politically incorrect joke, but rather the description of Lea Tsemel, who has for nearly five decades been an advocate for the supposedly indefensible.

Advocate is an expertly crafted intimate portrait of a provocative woman who has a unique ability to see the humanity in those accused, while exhibiting how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected those on a personal level.

After her involvement with the Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six Day War, Tsemel joined the anti-occupation movement in order to seek justice for the Palestinian people, deciding that the most prudent approach is to fight for them in court. Over the years Tsemel has been vilified in the press and in the public eye for her advocacy, but nevertheless, she remains optimistic in her belief that justice can be served.

In this documentary, we cut between Tsemel’s history of political dissention with the Israeli courts and society, and the two cases that she is taking on presently, one involving a Palestinain teenager who was involved in an alleged stabbing in the Pisgat Ze’ev neighbourhood, the other involving a woman from East Jerusalem that allegedly planned to blow up her car at a checkpoint. Although I consider myself as pro-Israel, and I remember these two incidents happening during a wave of violence between 2015-2016, I am cautiously using the word “alleged and allegedly” here to approach how the media referenced these incidents within the documentary.

It’s fascinating to see how directors Rachel Leah Jones and Phillippe Bellaiche straddle between the line of their inherent bias and Tsemel’s quest for human rights within Israel’s justice system. Advocate is a documentary not to be missed at this festival.

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Marc is just like any other film reviewer on the Internet, screaming into the endless void of interconnected social media...except he does not use Twitter that much. Having worked on various feature films, shorts, web series, and music videos, Marc has also worked on the distribution end of the film industry. His love for David Bowie and Nicolas Cage is only rivaled by his affinity for the movie going experience, which to him is like going to Temple (or ciné-gogue as he puts it,) where the film is gospel and the seats are just as uncomfortable. He lives in Toronto.
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