Julia Mann first fell in love with the art of documentary filmmaking as a junior at Friends School of Baltimore.
“I was taking a comparative religion class,” she recalls. “For my final, I made a film that looked at the importance of the ritual use of water in six different religions. We had to go out and interview people for each religion, and I went to places I didn’t even know existed before, like the Islamic Society of Baltimore and a Hindu temple just outside of Baltimore.
“I realized that documentary was a combination of everything I loved.”
A Baltimore native and Beth El congregant, Mann, 24, currently resides in Tel Aviv, where she serves as the program coordinator for the 22nd annual Docaviv: the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival.
The highly respected festival, which will be largely virtual this year, takes place from Sept. 3-12. Docaviv was originally scheduled for May 21-30 but postponed due to the pandemic.
“The health and safety of our audiences, filmmakers, staff, volunteers, and supporters is of the utmost importance,” Karin Rywkind Segal, Docaviv’s artistic director, said last March. “Our team is working around the clock to review, reschedule and reinvent.”
Founded by Israel director, producer and writer Ilana Tzur, Docaviv is Tel Aviv’s largest film festival and among the world’s leading documentary festivals. More than 130 Israeli and international films are screened there every year. Docaviv includes various filmmaking competitions as well as programming on such topics as music, art, social justice and virtual reality.
Since 2018, Docaviv has qualified for Academy Award consideration. At last year’s festival, the Oscar-nominated “Honeyland,” about the last female bee hunter in Europe, was named “Best International Film.”
“Docaviv presents an amazing combination of films and brings together some of the world’s leading documentary filmmakers,” says Mann, who earned her bachelor’s degree in digital culture and communications from the University of Tel Aviv and a graduate certificate in documentary film media studies from the New School in New York City.
“Docaviv works really hard to nurture Israeli filmmaking and filmmakers,” she says. “The Israeli film industry has just exploded in the last 10 years and become a major player on the international stage. Docaviv is an amazing launch pad for Israeli documentaries.”
Before working for Docaviv, Mann, who studied at the New York Film Academy, says she didn’t realize that “not every [documentary] is available and accessible. [For example] without Docaviv, these films wouldn’t have subtitles.”
While Mann’s work with the festival tends to be behind the scenes and not behind a camera, she says she continues to make her own films. She is currently working on a special project with two other filmmakers, a Haredi woman and an Arab Muslim woman.
“We set up stations in different parts of Jerusalem,” says Mann. “People come in and we ask them the question, ‘What have you changed your mind about?’ At the last shoot, there was a really sweet moment. An Arab man was speaking to us near a market in Jerusalem behind some [Israeli] policemen. He said before the coronavirus, he felt hated and scared of the police. Since corona, the police have been kind. He thanked the policeman who was standing there.”
While this year’s Docaviv will be mostly virtual, Mann says Americans will not be able to view its film roster during the festival itself.
“The films are geo-blocked to Israel according to streaming agreements with distributors,” Mann says, although some of the events associated with the festival will be virtually accessible and free of charge.
Hopefully, she says, Americans and other film lovers around the world will have an opportunity to view all of Docaviv’s offerings at some point in the near future. If so, she strongly recommends catching “The Mole Agent,” directed by Chilean filmmaker Maite Alberdi and exploring the issue of elder abuse.
“It’s about an 80-year-old man who goes undercover in a retirement home and all the women fall in love with him,” she says.
Mann also gives high marks to “In a Whisper” by Heidi Hassan and Patricia Perez Fernandez, a documentary “about two young filmmaker friends [Hassan and Fernandez] living in Cuba who lose touch. They start sending video logs of themselves to each other.”
Last year’s Docaviv drew approximately 67,000 attendees, Mann says. Due to COVID-19, this year’s festival will obviously be quite different.
“In my office of mostly women, everyone is working so hard to keep going and to keep [the festival] alive,” says Mann. “Because art matters, culture matters.”
For information about Docaviv, visit docaviv.co.il/org-en/about/.