Shortlisted for Best Documentary Feature Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards, Advocate directed by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche is a powerful portrait of the crusading and controversial Israeli Defense Attorney Lea Tsemeln. Nominated for Best Director and Best Feature at the IDA Awards and a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, Film Movement will release the acclaimed feature-length documentary in theaters in New York at Quad Cinema and Los Angeles at Laemmle Royal opening on January 3, 2020.
A political firebrand in her home country, Israeli defense attorney Lea Tsemel is known by opponents as “the devil’s advocate”, for her decades-long defense of Palestinians who have been accused of resisting the occupation, both violently and non-violently. The thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, Advocate, from filmmakers Rachel Leah Jones and Phillipe Bellaïche, both captures Tsemel in cinema verité fashion fighting on behalf of her clients in Israel’s challenging two-tier justice system and delves into Tsemel’s history revisiting her landmark cases.
From feminists and fundamentalists to non-violent demonstrators to armed militants, Lea Tsemel defends Palestinians. As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer who has represented political prisoners for nearly 50 years, Tsemel, in her tireless quest for justice, pushes the praxis of a human rights defender to its limits. Called “a lively exercise in documentary advocacy” by POV Magazine, in Advocate, Jones and Bellaïche juxtapose one of Tsemel’s current cases, the defense of a minor accused of attempted murder, with several of her past cases, including one that was as much personal as it was political wherein she defended her activist husband from an accusation of “treason”. Animated sequences conceal defendants’ identities as Tsemel frankly addresses their best possible chances for acquittal, while interviews with Tsemel’s adult children reveal her unique ability to see the humanity of those accused. Frequently subjected to harsh criticism in the Hebrew press and in the public view, Tsemel remains optimistically steadfast in her belief that justice can be served.
An original, provocative film that both exposes the human fallout of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and provides hope for a just resolution, Advocate was nominated for a Grand Jury Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It has also captured accolades and awards at numerous other international film festivals, including “Best Israeli Film” at the DocAviv Film Festival, the Jury Prize at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Golden Horn at the Krakow Film Festival and the FIPRESCI Prize and Golden Alexander at the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival.