FILM: ADVOCATE

2019 / documentary, biography / 1h 54min / directed by Philippe Bellaiche, Rachel Leah Jones / country: Switzerland | Israel | Canada / language: Hebrew | Arabic | English

Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians: from feminists to fundamentalists, from non-violent demonstrators to armed militants. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for five decades, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. As far as most Israelis are concerned, she defends the indefensible. As far as Palestinians are concerned, she’s more than an attorney, she’s an advocate.ADVOCATE follows Tsemel’s caseload in real-time, including the high-profile trial of a 13-year-old boy — her youngest client to date — while also revisiting her landmark cases and reflecting on the political significance of her work as well as the personal price one pays for taking on the role of “devil’s advocate.” When they aren’t busy chasing Tsemel through the courthouse halls, directing duo Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche assume the privileged position of a fly on the wall in her office, where a year of documenting is like gathering a lifetime of evidence. This evidence attests to the wrongs of occupation but also to the faults of those who try to resist it, the failings of those who try to defend them, and the fundamental flaws of a legal system that purports to serve justice but in fact serves the powers that be. Tsemel spoke truth to power before the term became trendy and she’ll continue to do so after fear makes it unfashionable. As such, she’s a model we’re hard-pressed to preserve in Israel/Palestine, and elsewhere. On the one hand, she’s the boy calling the Emperor naked, i.e. naming i.e. i.e. exposing the underbelly of Israeli security jurisprudence: the occupier is judging the occupied. On the other hand, she’s the boy with his finger in the dam, doing her utmost to uphold the rule-of-law before the flood of injustice drowns us all. As one judge is said to have put it: “If Lea Tsemel didn’t exist, we’d have to invent her.” –Home Made Docs

“Advocate isn’t interested in litigating the apparently limitless divisions between Israel and Palestine so much as it is in portraying Tsemel’s tireless routine, in the process demonstrating how one person lives morally and ethically within a morass.” -Keith Uhlich, The Hollywood Reporter

“Advocate expresses a truly universal truth for progressive movements: While active struggle requires significant sacrifice and even personal danger, it is in service of a greater, kinder future for all people, both intimate and unknown.” -Cassie da Costa, The Daily Beast

“Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche manage to use to their advantage the rules and restrictions on filming in courtrooms and on concealing the identity of the parties involved. The fact that the film must “limit itself” to tribunal corridors endows the documentary with a very interesting subtext, comprising long waits, poorly veiled emotions and words whispered as if in a confessional. Equally intelligent is the idea of using superimposed animated images to hide the faces of those presumed guilty, the former appearing on the screen as if in some kind of dream (or rather a nightmare).” -Giorgia Del Don, Cineuropa

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