Saturday, November 10, 2018

DOC NYC Spotlight: Afterward

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eighth year in New York City from November 8th-15th.

Directed by Ofra Bloch
Festival Screenings

Every documentary filmmaker has a reason for doing what they do, whether it’s a particular experience that compelled them to research something or a more general worldview that inspired them to share their stories. In creating a film for public consumption, the responsibility of a filmmaker is to portray whatever injustice they perceive while providing an appropriate context for those that may not have any prior experience with the subject matter. Evidently, someone must convey their own beliefs and perspective, but it’s likely that a large portion of their audience may confront their chosen topic for the first and potentially only time through their work.

Ofra Bloch is a psychoanalyst living in New York who returns to her native country of Israel to research the effects of trauma and how it can be passed down through generations. As she examines the nature of Israel’s relationship to its occupied citizens, she breaks down the connection of the Holocaust to the Palestinian experience. She interviews ex-Nazis and other non-Jewish Germans to understand how the history of the Holocaust shaped them, and speaks to a number of Palestinians who describe their subjugated lives and how they believe that any attempt to discuss the occupation with Israelis results in an immediate shutdown of the conversation by referencing the fact that the Holocaust happened as a justification for any present-day actions.

This film would actually have been a perfect fit for the recently-concluded Other Israel Film Festival because of its highlighting of the Palestinian narrative despite being made by an Israeli Jewish filmmaker. As a documentary at this festival tagged with “Jewish” and “Human Rights” as themes, it’s a bit more problematic. It emphasizes the suppression of Palestinians, and while giving Israelis the opportunity to defend their status might be seen as enabling the perpetrators, the only Israeli given any sort of voice is Bloch herself, who admits that she didn’t feel comfortable speaking up in defense of those who have experienced terror and loss at the hands of self-described Palestinian resistance fighters, who insist repeatedly that the term “violence” should not be used in reference to what they do. She has clearly become disillusioned with how her country operates, as many within Israel and in the Jewish diaspora have, but her scope of focus seems narrow and incomplete.

This subject matter is obviously of particular interest to this reviewer, who has attempted not to let his personal feelings get in the way of an honest and objective critique. This film bears some similarities to “Spiral,” which saw some connection between Israeli settlement activity and a resurgence in anti-Semitism in the world, the latter of which this film address very minimally. Most troublingly, Bloch interviews Palestinians who say that every conversation about their oppression is shut down by Israelis because they cite the Holocaust but then includes no one who went through the Holocaust either personally or ancestrally. By neglecting to feature interviews with any Israelis or Holocaust survivors, Bloch is endorsing just the opposite, saying that any argument made in defense of Israeli behavior is illegitimate. Showcasing the underrepresented in this case creates a dangerously limited perspective that, used as an education tool for what is happening in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as presented by a liberal Israeli, hardly does justice to anyone involved.


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