When filmmaker Ilana Tsur came up with the idea of having a documentary film festival in Tel Aviv, she didn’t dare to imagine tens of thousands of film-goers enjoying hundreds of films each year. Tsur launched the first edition of Docaviv Festival in 1999. It was a 4-day affair with 50 films and a modest audience of 5,000. Ilana served as Festival Director for the first 12 years of Docaviv’s existence. In her last two years of work, she was also the Festival’s artistic director. She watched with pride as—against all odds and despite a skeptical initial reception—her dream came true and grew into an international celebration of the documentary genre. Attended by leading local and international documentarians, the Festival gave Israel a place of honor in the international documentary scene. Ilana had known with a deep certainty what many Israeli film lovers learned only years later: that Israeli cinema had more to be proud of than its superb fiction films because Israel was home to exceptional documentarians. She believed that Israel’s broadcasting corporations, movie theaters, and other festivals did not give enough attention to original documentaries, preferring to focus on narrative films starring famous actors. Docaviv—the festival that started out in Tel Aviv and later expanded to the North and South of Israel—enabled Ilana to showcase brilliant documentaries that touched the very core of Israeli reality.Ilana Tsur—who passed away, aged 77, on September 3, 2020, on the first day of the 22nd edition of Docaviv Festival—first stepped into the documentary genre at Kol Israel, Israel’s public radio, where she hosted and made documentary shows. One of her shows—the story of her uncle’s involvement in the capture of Lehi founder Avraham “Yair” Stern by the British CID—caught the attention of documentarian Yehuda Kaveh, and he asked to adapt it into a feature film. Tsur agreed on the condition that she would be involved in all production stages. Her subsequent films, Altalena and The Last Transfer (about Holocaust survivors staying in the psycho-geriatric ward of Abarbanel Mental Health Center), were made independently—and saw much success as they screened at festivals worldwide.

Ilana believed documentary cinema had the power to change reality. For as long as she was Festival Director and Lead Programmer, in interviews, she stressed over and over that Israeli documentary filmmakers were spotlighting critical changes in Israeli society. She was not surprised that the films were getting international acclaim. Topics like immigration, meetings of eastern and western cultures and different religions, as well as ecological issues, were of immense importance to her. She was confident that documentaries on these topics broadened our horizons, encouraged critical thinking, and helped create a better, more intelligent society.

When she retired, she said she would devote her time to resting, seeing the world, and, perhaps, making films again. She kept some of those promises, but she never strayed far from Docaviv, her life’s work. In 2016, she released her last documentary, “Blue Eyes: Brown Eyes,” a personal film about her family. The film was screened at Docaviv. In 2018, in honor of the Festival’s 20th edition, she curated a unique Hidden Gems program featuring films from her years as the Festival’s Artistic Director. The program was a big success.

Beyond the Screen Award carries Ilana Tsur’s name. The nominees for this award are Israeli and international films whose subjects work to change our political, social, and ecological reality. Anchored in current events, these films have the power to change hearts and minds. These were Ilana Tsur’s greatest passions, and she advocated for them throughout her time as Festival Director.

Ilana Tsur
Ilana Tsur
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