Hot Docs 2019: “Advocate” (2019) ★★★★

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Philippe Bellaiche

It’s not that easy to stand by the defendant and represent his or her rights in court when the entire country goes against that person and the court has already prepared its decision even before the trial starts. So what is the point to even fight for something that can’t be won? Of course, if you dig deep and consider every case separately, maybe those judges or even the system is right by making up their own mind on whatever they feel is right. However, knowing that there is justice for some but not for others, so who will be the one to stand before the same judges and argue the same?

Lea Tsemel calls herself a losing lawyer, because every case she has taken was lost. But once you watch the documentary called “Advocate”, then you will realize why she is the most successful, fearless lawyers in the world, known as the devil’s advocate. Her fascinating and quite eventful journey started way before the documentary begins, following her real time as she fights separate cases on court, knowing ahead of time she will lose, but the biggest victory of all is to reduce the sentences.

So who are those people that she defends? Israel sees them as Palestinian terrorists that must face either death penalty or serve life in prison. For Lea Tsemel, they are the people who fight for their freedom, children under fourteen that must not face trial, but they still do because that’s how the system works. “All what I want is Palestinians to find justice in Israeli court”, she says at some point. And later on she adds, “I am just a very angry optimistic woman”. Because as per her confession, no matter how tough cases are, she sees the person behind any case she works on.

As a Jewish-Israeli lawyer, she represented political prisoners for five decades, never stopped pursuing human rights, and continues to defend what many find indefensible. But as you watch the wonderful and courageous quest of this wonder woman, you realize that power is not in muscles or money but in the determination and desire to see the best in people when the rest of the world does not. As you continue exploring more about Lea Tsemel through this journey, one question you will find yourself asking is how come on earth she managed to get that far without even getting assassinated due the nature of her work?

“Advocate”, directed by Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaiche, is an extraordinary film about the wonderful human being who happens to be the most important human rights lawyers in the world. As we realize that there is an urgent need to have more people like her, it also becomes obvious that there might be not. Not any more. But hearing stories like these give us hope that one day we may stop fighting, judging, arguing and start listening. Because only constructive dialogue can lead us towards long-awaited resolution and hatred or judgment is not it.

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