Monday, November 30, 2020

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Crossings

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 14th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually December 3rd-10th, 2020.

Crossings
Directed by Itzik Lerner 
Ticket Information

The checkpoints that exist throughout Israel separating the country from Palestinian territories are a subject of much controversy around the world. Its harshest critics compare it to the maintenance of an apartheid state in which the movement of Palestinians is severely restricted and controlled by an unfeeling imperial power. Israel defends its actions as necessary to its own security, citing past threats that have emerged by those who seek to deny its right to exist through violence and terrorism. Whatever arguments there may be for and against them, the fact at this moment is that they exist.

This film doesn’t expressly take a position on the legitimacy of these border crossing stations and whether they are just. The straightforward presentation of footage speaks volumes, showing the way in which Palestinians wait for hours to get to the jobs they are desperate to keep, subject to the whims of an Israeli soldier who will determine whether they are permitted to go or must turn back for any number of seemingly arbitrary reasons. But that isn’t the focus of this film, which instead provides an unexpectedly intimate look at the lives and training protocols of the Israeli soldiers stationed at the checkpoints.

Working both as a soldier and at a border crossing is new for most of these young Israelis who aren’t prepared for the pressures that come with it. They are encouraged to compete with each other and told to toughen up when they complain about painful boots or undue stresses that they are expected to get through rather than acknowledge. When they begin to question their purpose and the validity of their presence, they are reminded that this is the job and that the security of the country depends on them following orders and remaining vigilant.

It’s never made clear who commissioned this film and what perspective it’s meant to represent. Those shown on camera are obviously aware that they are being filmed, and that doesn’t seem to affect their behavior in any way, with harsh statements being made and crying occurring frequently. Director Itzik Lerner’s last film, which also played at the Other Israel Film Festival, was “Megiddo,” showcasing Palestinians housed in a high-security prison, also training its lens on fascinating subjects and simply allowing them to speak without framing the narrative in an influential way. Like that film, this is an undeniably enlightening approach, even if it leaves moral takeaways entirely up to its viewers.

B

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