Monday, November 7, 2022

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: The Devil’s Drivers

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.

The Devil’s Drivers
Directed by Daniel Carsenty and Mohammed Abugeth
Ticket Information

Borders are a complicated matter, especially in a place where the division between two lands isn’t always clear and is disputed. It’s unlikely that a film about those who smuggle Mexican people into the United States through Texas or Arizona would get made since the two countries are firmly established and those crossing wouldn’t argue that they aren’t breaking the law. But for Palestinians coming into Israel, this subject is apparently something that can be filmed and celebrated, painting its protagonists as soldiers in a fight for free access.

Hamouda and Ismail are Bedouin Palestinians who live in the West Bank along the southern border of Israel, where the boundary wall has yet to be constructed and therefore provides easier access for them to use to their advantage. They know that they must operate in an aggressively attentive and constantly-changing way, since previously safe routes can at any point become untenable and they could be arrested if other drivers opt to cooperate with the Israeli army and turn them in rather than go to prison themselves.

“The Devil’s Drivers” makes the argument, conveyed passionately by its two lead subjects, that they have no choice but to do this work since there is no other way to provide for their families. They express how the Israelis go to great lengths to put roadblocks in their way and take punitive measures to discourage them from remaining involved in smuggling efforts. When one of them is arrested after declining a phone call from two people who subsequently committed a terrorist attack in Israel, they bemoan the unfair treatment that they have received. They do seem aware of the reality - that they evade capture 99.9% of the time but then get punished for everything the one time they do get caught - but still find any sort of consequence unjust because this is their only choice.

Stylistically, this film does enhance its storytelling with animation to chronicle the multiple uprisings by Palestinians that resulted in heightened security and a decrease in permission mobility for Hamouda, Ismail, and their families. They know things might be safer for them if they stopped driving, but they also believe they must continue to have some hope of a fulfilling existence for those they love. Ultimately, this portrait feels problematic due to the way in which it disregards the illegality of its subjects’ work, excusing it as acceptable because of the situation and then expressing indignation when they are targeted by those monitoring a border that is most definitely not secure.


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