Saturday, November 3, 2018

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Megiddo

I’m delighted to be returning for the seventh time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 12th Annual Other Israel Film Festival takes place November 1st-8th, 2018.

Directed by Itzik Lerner
Festival Information

Going inside a prison with a video camera is always an opportunity to tell a story and to expose the way that its unwilling residents are being treated. While they are incarcerated for crimes they have committed, there is still a basic human dignity that must be preserved, with the hope that those who are released emerge rehabilitated and eager to contribute positively to society. That concept is much more complicated in Israel, where many are imprisoned for involvement in activities against their occupiers, and being confined to a space that is not their own and guarded by the very people they detest creates an altogether different sentiment.

Megiddo is a high-security prison in Israel which includes a number of Palestinian prisoners from different factions, including Hamas and Fatah. They introduce themselves and note their charges to the camera, with many instances of lengthy sentences for crimes including shooting at soldiers and setting off bombs that resulted in no injuries and no casualties, or something more general like involvement in terrorist activities. In their present situation, they still advocate for themselves, electing spokesmen to ensure humane treatment and to combat disciplinary measures that seek to punish everyone for one inmate’s infraction.

One of the focuses of this film is to highlight the discrepancy afforded to those affiliated with Fatah and with Hamas, which in addition to being a political party is also widely regarded as a terrorist organization. Some of the film’s most powerful moments come when a prisoner scheduled for release after his third term in jail talks to a guard, who tells him that any man who gets sent to jail three times is likely to be back for a fourth, since it obviously means that he values his ideology over his family. Though there’s little mention of any sort of remorse or reformed attitudes, there is a strong emphasis on the prisoners as family men who yearn for the day that they might be reunited with their loved ones.

The level of access granted to these filmmakers is incredible, and it definitely presents an eye-opening look into what life in this prison is like. What the documentarians fail to do, perhaps purposely, is to take a side in what it is that they’re documenting. The prisoners mostly express dissatisfaction with some of their conditions despite appearing relatively comfortable, and there’s a sense that protest is almost mandatory as a way of life, which then elicits surprise from the prisoners when repercussions ensue. It’s the kind of film that should definitely be shown at a festival such as the Other Israel Film Festival, but it’s more of a conversation starter than a fully-realized finished product.


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