Wednesday, November 18, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: The Viewing Booth

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th.

The Viewing Booth
Directed by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz
Ticket Information

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has many elements to it, and it’s difficult to find someone without a perspective on it if they have a connection of any sort to the region. Where people grew up, their religious affiliation, their politics, and their own experiences with Israel and Palestine inform how they look at any situation related to them. Some have changed their attitudes over the course of their lives, and an important factor in that can be the media they digest and the way in which they are open to their perceptions being challenged.

Filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz enlists several participants to take part in an experiment of sorts, bringing them into a booth to look at a series of clips involving Israelis and Palestinian. Some come from the Israeli army or pro-government sources, while others have been put together by B’Tselem, an organization emphasizing human rights. From those he brings in, Maia, who is Jewish, American, and supportive of Israel, stands out to Ra’anan due to how she comes with her own biases and begins to peel back the layers of what she has been taught to believe, and how that informs her own willingness to consider something that doesn’t support her preexisting notions.

This film trains its lens on Maia as she watches and comments on the videos she sees, utilizing her reactions and responses to make a case for the power of suggestion and the way in which rational thought isn’t always at play when the thought process stops at an initial dismissal. Maia believes certain things and can’t stop her mind from making conclusions even if some evidence is missing, and she begins to question her own objectivity when she incorrectly guesses the source of a particular video. She knows, at the very least, that she brings in her worldview to color a situation that for her – and most – can’t be seen exactly as it is.

Early into this documentary, Ra’anan mentions that, though there were multiple people involved in this viewing project, he chose only to focus on Maia. It’s irresponsible, therefore, to conclude that watching footage which challenges someone’s previously-held beliefs can lead to a shift in perspective, since she’s merely one data point. The rest is ignored, perhaps because it didn’t support that thesis or merely because what Maia came to understand was most potent. The idea that consuming a diverse sampling of media in any case – not just this situation – is certainly valid, though this film, which is indeed compelling, shouldn’t really arrive at that point based on its use of just one participant.


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