Saturday, November 5, 2022

Other Israel Film Festival: A Reel War: Shalal

I’m delighted to be returning for the eighth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of thought-provoking and often difficult, complex, Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 16th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually and in-person November 3rd-10th, 2022.

A Reel War: Shalal
Directed by Karnit Mandel
Ticket Information

One of the most emphasized aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the need for Palestinians to have the right to self-determination. Part of that involves understanding a people’s history, something that may be difficult given the occupation that Palestinians have been under for the past seventy-four years. “A Reel War: Shalal” examines one facet of that: the possession of footage belonging to the Palestinian Liberation Organization that was seized by Israel in 1982 and has yet to be returned.

There are many interesting questions that emerge throughout this documentary as filmmaker Karnit Mandel experiences roadblock after roadblock to even get through to someone in the archives department to confirm that this footage even still exists. The many people involved in archive work interviewed all argue that there is no reason for these reels to be kept by Israel as they represent a crucial part of the Palestinian legacy, something that should be rightfully held by those with that heritage and which should serve no use for the Israeli army or government.

Much of the footage that is available shows young children and the way things used to be, and it’s understandable that Mandel and others would push for that to be available for her and for others to whom it would have great meaning. Yet it pushes up against an oft-cited obstacle that dates back to 1982 and much before that, to a point where the Palestinian Liberation Organization was an enemy combatant of Israel, and there is a legitimate fear that handing over that footage could have dangerous consequences for the security of Israel.

Yet this film posits a poignant argument that there is no reason for this footage to remain inaccessible and confidential, reducing any concerns about it being used for anything other than to recover a lost history which can strengthen a people struggling to find an identity in their current state. There is also a striking parallel to much of what is longed for in Jewish history in Israel, a people whose history with the land dates back centuries and who only recently have been able to return in a welcome way. As is often the case with Other Israel Film Festival selections, it’s most stirring to hear from Israelis who have changed their opinions throughout the years on what is censored and kept out of reach, or who may have always felt that more transparency should exist, and feel perfectly comfortable speaking out now in a film like this.


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