Monday, November 5, 2018

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Unsettling

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 Iris Zaki
Festival Information

Settlements are among the most controversial elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israeli development and communities built on land considered to be part of the Palestinian Territories is widely considered to be an obstacle to peace, but there’s no simple solution. Many of those communities have existed for decades, and a simple retreat, like the Gaza disengagement in 2005, does not lead to any more accord and can produce more problematic issues subsequently. The majority of settlers are painted as right-wing and nationalistic, but there’s more to the story there too.

Filmmaker Iris Zaki moves from Tel Aviv to Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank. Arriving and proudly describing herself as “left-wing,” Zaki seeks to understand the perspective of those living in Tekoa and how they see the situation in the country. While some initially balk at her presence and the notion of having a camera around, a number of residents are more than willing to talk. As they express their feelings about why they are there and how they relate to the Arab population surrounding them, Zaki presses them on whether there are truly considering the way their disenfranchised neighbors live and how it contrasts greatly with their happy existence.

What Zaki manages to do here is, in one way, remarkable. Announcing herself unapologetically as a leftist and challenging those she interviews with charges of occupation and apartheid, she has conversations with those completely on the opposite end of the political spectrum. They may get passionate, but at no time are they disrespectful, which says something in our current society. For Americans watching, this should be particularly heartwarming, given just how aggressively party divides have made it so that people who don’t agree also don’t talk to each other.

Zaki probes some interesting questions and inarguably gets interesting results. Those she speaks to don’t hold back, and even wrestle audibly with exactly how they feel and what parts of their narratives are contradictory. This film runs just an hour and ten minutes, and given the intriguing nature of what just a few residents share, there’s evidently a much bigger project here. Zaki presses those she speaks to for solutions, but she doesn’t seem to have many of her own, merely an interest in ensuring that people don’t simply accept their realities. Her most compelling conversation comes with a young woman who survived a stabbing attack and, as a result, realized that a more understanding and pluralistic approach to Israeli-Palestinian relations is necessary. Such optimistic ideas of coexistence are inspiring, and films like this one, which fittingly closes the Other Israel Film Festival, are great conversations starters.


No comments: