The on-going conflict in the Middle East provides a tableau for a diverse group of films at IDFA, the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, the largest documentary film event on the planet. The films range from classic reportage to more intimate explorations of the passions, terrors and conflicts that are generated in this turbulent part of the world.
Spanish filmmaker Alberto Arce has teamed up with a Palestinian colleague Gazan Mohammad Rujailah for the film TO SHOOT AN ELEPHANT. The film chronicles life in Gaza during Israel’s three-week offensive in December 2008, in which over 1500 Palestinians (including 300 children) and 13 Israelis lost their lives. The documenary focuses on the dangerous work of Gaza’s ambulance drivers, who must literally head into the heart of the bombs in an attempt to rescue injured and dying civilians. The film is dedicated to an ambulance driver who was killed during the production.
The focus is on the other side of the divide in TO SEE IF I AM SMILING, a film that focuses on a group of Israeli women who still suffer guilt and post-traumatic stress by their activities during their military service. This issue of moral conflict has been the subject of a number of celebrated Israeli films of the past year, including the Oscar-nominated WALTZ WITH BASHIR. In this documentary, the film avoids taking on the political issues head on and focuses more on the more personal and internal problems that arise after many generations of conflict.
The moral ambivalences and general uncertainty that prevails on both sides of the conflict are expressed in a number of other films screening here this week. In GOOGLE BABY, director Zippi Brand Frank examines the growing trend towards online egg cell donation and surrogate mother agencies. Yoav Shamir examines the concept of anti-semitism and how it has evolved with the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands in the film DEFAMATION. Mor Loushy’s ISRAEL LTD. follows three young Americans on a Zionist youth program and the lessons they are taught to reinforce their patriotic zeal.
One of the more fascinating titles here is BLOOD RELATION, a personal account of filmmmaker Noa Ben-Hagai’s discovery that she has Palestinian cousins living in a West Bank who are the offspring of an outcast aunt who ran away from the family home as a teenager. Her decision to track down her Palestinian cousins sends her Israeli family into a tailspin, as the tense relations between Israelis and Arabs is outlined in more personal terms.
This theme of intertwined familial ties and shared origins is also the theme in JAFFA: THE ORANGE’S CLOCKWORK, which charts how the Jaffa orange was transformed from a traditional Palestinian fruit to an Israeli brand name. The film argues that the Israeli talents for propoganda and public relations are another example of the power dynamics that fuel animosity in the region.