Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Cause of Death

I’ve had the privilege of screening a few selections from the Israel Film Festival, which serves as a showcase for the best Israeli films each year. The 33rd Israel Film Festival takes place November 12th-26th, 2019.

Cause of Death
Directed by Ramy A. Katz
Festival Information

The loss of a close relative or friend is sure to trigger grief in a person, regardless of the manner in which that loss occurred. Often, the emotions stirred up and subsequent shifts in personality and attitude can be surprising, changing the way someone interacts with the world as a result of this missing piece. When violence is involved in the deceased’s final moments, that can amplify the trauma considerably, and if the circumstances surrounding the details of how that person died are mysterious or unknown, a mourner can be left struggling and searching for answers for years or even their whole lives.

On May 3rd, 2002, Druze policeman Salim Barakat was in the vicinity of a terrorist attack at the Seafood Market restaurant in Tel Aviv. When he saw what was going on, he sprang into action and shot the terrorist, who stabbed him to death before he died. Following his murder, Salim’s brother Jamal felt unresolved, uncertain about what exactly happened. Years later, he remains convinced that there is more to the story, and returns to many of the places and people involved in Salim’s life and death to determine whether Salim actually died the way everyone but him believes he did.

This film, which is also playing at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York this week, shines a light on the Druze community in Israel and how its members coexist with both Israelis and Palestinians, often serving alongside Israelis in arms of law enforcement and the military. Where Jamal’s concern arises is in the news footage that reveals that Salim was initially mistaken for the terrorist rather than the one subduing him, revealing unspoken discrimination that occurs within Israeli society. Some Jamal speaks to are open to the possibility that Salim’s death may be more complicated, while others insist that there’s no reason to open old wounds and that he should simply remember his brother as a hero.

In this documentary, the camera is set up right next to Jamal and sticks with him for the entirety of his search. Audiences watch footage of the attack and the aftermath with Jamal as he re-experiences it yet again, and accompany him as he tries to speak to anyone he possibly can who will help him get closer to the truth. It’s a deeply personal exploration, one that confirms much of Jamal’s suspicions about the nature of some facets of Israeli society and serves as a strong personal tribute to one man’s quest to achieve justice for a brother he shouldn’t have had to lose.


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