When Is a Feature Not a Documentary?

Director Shaul Dishi claims "The Guide to Revolution" is a documentary, but its creators say that worldwide, films are being made that defy such definitions

Should the film "The Guide to Revolution" created by Doron Tsabari and Ori Inbar, which is competing in the feature film category for the Ophir Award this year, be allowed to compete in this category? In an open letter sent earlier this week to heads of the Israeli Film Academy and dozens of academy members, the director Shaul Dishi, himself an academy member, claims that it is a documentary film in every respect and protests that it should not be placed in the category of feature films.

One of the staged scenes from the 'The guide to Revolution'

"What is 'featurish' about a documentary film that documents the struggle of an energetic activist and film creator against the public conduct of the public television channel?" Dishi writes. "Is the linear chronology of events described in the film? The fact that a number of children were brought into the cast for flashback scenes? The fact that there are a number of staged events?"

"The Guide to Revolution" had its premiere at the Cinema South Festival and will participate in the competition for Israeli feature films at the Jerusalem Film Festival that opens tomorrow. It follows the struggle of two artists who try to introduce a reform in public broadcasting, and reveals the ways in which decision-making processes take place in the government and Knesset.

The movie combines both documentary and feature elements, and is constructed like a kind of guide to revolutionaries who want to shake up the existing order. Many consider it a leading candidate for the Ophir Award.

Two years ago, there was a similar controversy over "Waltz with Bashir," Ari Folman's animated documentary, when it competed for the academy's prize. In the end, it won six awards (including the Best Film prize ) and was later a candidate for the Oscar in the best foreign film category.

Dishi declares that his only motive in writing the letter was "cleanliness of the system," as he phrases it. "I saw most of the feature and documentary films that are competing this year, and felt confused both as someone who has a vote and as a future candidate. In my eyes, there is a clear distinction between a feature film and a non-feature film, and this film is 90 percent documentary. How can I compare it with a feature? I think this film receives positive discrimination when compared with other documentaries."

Ilana Sharon, the academy's director, explained that the regulations define a film that can compete in the competition for feature films "in a broad way, as a full-length film that is intended to be screened in movie houses, was produced and filmed in Israel and for the most part uses the official languages of the country. Out of respect for the films' creators, we make it possible for them to choose the category in which they wish to compete and do not look into every little aspect of the films that are submitted for the competition. The creators of "The Guide to Revolution" defined their film as a feature and we accept their judgment. We can rely on members of the academy to judge for themselves."

Tsabari and Inbar said in response that "'The Guide to Revolution' is a film that was intended to achieve a cinematic result about which the terms 'documentary,' 'feature' and others will seem archaic. We did not create the wheel - all over the world, films are made that challenge these definitions. Kiarostami's film "Ten" and Nani Moretti's "Caro Diario" (Dear Diary ) searched for, and found, their own means of cinematic expression. "Waltz with Bashir" did it in its own way too, both here and abroad. Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" competed in the feature category at the Cannes Film Festival and won first prize already eight years ago.

"If Mr. Dishi were to request that "The Guide to Revolution" be prohibited from also competing in the documentary categories, he would be equally justified. The number of scenes filmed by David Gurfinkel, accompanied by a full team including actors, lighting experts, grips, accessories, dressers and so forth is large, and spread throughout the film. The 'war room' from which the struggle with the Israel Broadcasting Authority was conducted was designed as a film set in every sense and the minor figures were cast as actors in every way. There's no place to describe here all the 'featurish' elements of the film. We believe that the cinematic result is worthy of competing for the prize for the year's best film, and has the right to compete as an equal for the hearts of cinema audiences. May the best one win!"