Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
Two protests between Israelis and Palestinians in 2003 resulted in two very different documentaries showing in theaters after screening at festival showcases internationally, including at the Tribeca Film Festival.
In Budrus, a West Bank Palestinian village occupied by Israel since 1967, the villagers watched anxiously in 2002 as Israel began building a segment of the huge concrete security separation wall. The construction threatened to take over 300 acres and destroy 3,000 olive trees, the basis of the town’s economy. Budrus closely follows the remarkable story, from many viewpoints, of how the small community of 1,500 organized to defend its orchards and, in the process, created an unusual paradigm for nonviolent protest and accommodation in a part of the world where most would think that’s impossible.
The key figure is a Palestinian Authority civil servant, husband, and father Ayed Morrar. While serving years in Israeli prisons for participation in earlier intifadas, he learned about the history and philosophy of nonviolence. He spurs his neighbors to form the first Popular Committee Against the Wall and arrays them up against the bulldozers.
While the mainstream media is indifferent, the filmmakers arrive as the protest is underway, and over the tense 10 month stand-off, they intimately capture how it progressed, including when occasional violence erupts from both sides. In addition to the usual cast of Israelis vs. Palestinians are inside looks at divisions within the Palestinian community and how Morrar manages to navigate through political shoals that have wrecked most others in the desert.
The first surprise is on Morrar, when his teenage daughter Iltezam literally jumps into the demonstrations, stalling a bulldozer as it is digging a hole. Modestly dressed with a head scarf, she passionately defends the involvement of women in the protest movement. She organizes the other women, who become a potent moral force and noisy presence, especially against the Israeli female soldiers they taunt.
The film also shows how those with different agendas try to hijack the nonviolent protests. Restless teenage boys would rather throw rocks than negotiate. Competing Hamas and Fatah politicians ride in to seize credit and make political hay out of other people’s hard work. Their careerist sloganeering makes them seem like universal buffoons out of Central Casting compared to the determined villagers. Morrar’s canny strategy is to seem neutral and stay a step ahead of them by convincing other border villages in the path of the wall to coordinate with Budrus and organize their own grassroots committees. He also warily accepts the support of Israeli peace activists, and as their tentative dialogue grows stronger, he sees their usefulness in dealing with the soldiers and in influencing Israeli politics—that may be the protestors’ bigger achievement.
Around the same time, the international media was more focused on another blockade of bulldozers. A protest against the Israeli army demolishing Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip for a security corridor resulted in the death of 22-year-old American Rachel Corrie. The cause célèbre has been the basis for several TV reports, a play, and songs, as well as the namesake for one of the ships that recently tried to break the Gaza blockade. Simone Bitton’s Rachel exhaustively combs through what brought her there from Washington State and the conflicting accounts of what actually happened that day in March.
Heard but unseen, Bitton (she’s a Moroccan-born Israeli living in France) uses her multilingual fluency to cut through the Rashomon-like testimony of witnesses and interviews with Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, and international activists. She’s at her best as an investigative journalist probing two aspects of the Israeli government’s justifications—first, how it happened that Rachel was crushed by a bulldozer in the heat of a confusing confrontation, and then in skewering the official version until it looks like a clumsy cover-up out of some conspiracy theory TV drama. She goes minute by minute through security video and witness statements and finds literal holes in their stories. The government position is weakly represented by a blithe press spokeswoman, who wouldn’t sound credible claiming the sun rises in the east.
But the director does not bring the same level of inquisition in looking at how Rachel arrived there that fateful day. From the memories of Rachel’s grieving family and friends, who read aloud her diaries and e-mails, as well as her colleagues and the locals who hosted her stay, Rachel comes across as a very young paper saint with the wide-eyed naiveté of an immature novitiate swept along in fervor.
does not challenge Rachel’s sponsoring organization, the International
Solidarity Movement, for using enthusiastic, unprepared young people
from outside the Middle East as human shields in harm’s way during a
volatile confrontation. Ironically, these outsiders’ actions seem like a
calculated exploit for international promotional
purposes. Where Rachel leaves the viewer discouraged about
peace in the Middle East, Budrus holds out the promise of hope
for the future.
Nora Lee Mandel