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Israeli filmmaker and video artist Avi Mograbi, born in 1956 in Tel Aviv, is not only considered Israel’s most important documentarist, but also – as a committed eyewitness of the Middle East conflict, an experimentalist, and avid reformist of cinematic language – an artist for whom the document has equal standing with fiction. He asks poignant, unanswerable questions concerning responsibility, forgiveness, and the nature of cinematic truth. The tone of voice in his films is often bitterly pessimistic, yet always steeped in sarcastic humor. What emerges from this filmmaker’s scenic and visual decision-making is a fundamental distrust of simple solutions.

In 2009, the Akademie der Künste in Berlin awarded Avi Mograbi the Konrad Wolf Prize for his exceptional cinematic achievements. His films have appeared at festivals worldwide. At the Yamagata Film Festival, Z32 (2008) received the Excellence Award and, in Venice, was chosen Best Documentary Film. Avenge But One of My Blue Eyes (2005) was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and received the Amnesty Award as well as special mention at the Rotterdam Film Festival. Among other festivals, Detail (2004) was screened in the Forum section of the Berlinale, honored with the Aprile Award in Milan, and, at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, awarded the Micheal Moore Award for Best Documentary Film. August (2002) received the Peace Film Award at the Berlinale and was chosen Best Documentary Film in São Paulo. The Reconstruction (1994) was named Best Documentary Film by the Israeli Film Institute.

Avi Mograbi’s parents originate from dissimilar hemispheres: his mother fled from Leipzig to Israel in 1933, and his father’s family lived in Beirut und Damascus. Mograbi studied art and philosophy in Tel Aviv, where he lives today. After gathering his first experience assisting directors, his own filmmaking began in 1989. Since 1999 he also teaches documentary and experimental filmmaking at the University of Tel Aviv, and at Jerusalem’s Sam Spiegel Film and Television School and art academy.

Mograbi’s films are reflexive without becoming prosaic or formal. He constantly builds himself into his films an investigative element and comments – often humorously – on what takes place on screen. In his 2008 film Z32, he intonates, to a degree, a popular song with piano accompaniment. He calls this film a “tragic documentary musical” – in which an Israeli elite soldier reports on his own actions during a retaliation campaign. He seeks forgiveness for murdering two Palestinian police officers. The film investigates the insurmountable gulf between this personal testimony and its artistic representation. By comparison, in the 2005 film Avenge But One of My Blue Eyes, Avi Mograbi mounts totally unalike locations during the Al-Aqsa Intifada one beside the other. He shows young people at the revival of the Masada Cult, whose mass suicides, as a last defense strategy, remain important to the Zionist discourse even today. After hours of waiting in vain at the border, an elderly Palestinian woman breaks down and wishes she were dead. And near Samson’s tomb, an Israeli family models the story of the legendary founding father in clay. Again and again, the filmmaker shows himself having a long telephone conversation with a friend in the occupied zone. In the end, he says that he has never prayed before in his life. If he dies now – what should he say to God? “I was busy,” replies Mograbi and laughs. In this film, real places, times and situations pervade one another while showing the full scope of Israeli reality’s perplexity, violence, and suicidal tendencies.

During his stay in Berlin, Avi Mograbi hopes to concentrate on two linked film projects: The Return to Leipzig and The Return to Beirut. The filmmaker’s parents originate from these two cities, and the relationship to their old homeland is broken for various reasons. But regarding this, Mograbi is primarily fascinated with his own standpoint and that of his own generation: Can an Israeli return to Germany at all? Does the return of an Israeli to Beirut remain a virtual or even militant act?

Films (selection): 2008 Z32 (experimental film, 35 mm, 81’) 2002 August (documentary film, 35 mm, 72’) 1999 Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi (documentary film, 16 mm, 77’) 1997 How I Learned to Overcome My Fear and Love Arik Sharonn (documentary film, video, 61’)

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