Two Documentaries – one Israeli, one Palestinian/Israeli – Vie for Oscar

Two Documentaries – one Israeli, one Palestinian/Israeli – Vie for Oscar

‘Five Broken Cameras’ co-directors Davidi (left) & Burnat

It’s fascinating to see two documentaries – one Israeli and one Palestinian-Israeli – picked as finalists for the Academy Award.  Ralph Seliger interviewed Guy Davidi, the Israeli co-director of “Five Broken Cameras” and blogged about it here.  

This is a rare year in recent cycles that an Israeli film has not been a top contender for Best Foreign Language Film honors, but it will be a tribute to Israeli cinema if one of these two finally wins a coveted statuette in the documentary category.  Yet some Israelis will not be pleased.

Reviews of “The Gatekeepers” include one in The American Prospect, “An Inescapable Truth” by journalist Gershom Gorenberg, beginning as follows:

As I watched The Gatekeepers in a small hall in Jerusalem, [these] thoughts kept repeating in my mind. The first was that if the new Israeli documentary were showing on prime-time television rather than in tiny cinematheque auditoriums, the country’s vapid election campaign might morph turn into an urgently needed debate on the occupation. … The film’s Oscar nomination for best documentary will not be celebrated in those organizations.
…. Yuval Diskin, who stepped down as head of the agency only in 2011, … speaks with quiet anger about the chronic vision deficit of today’s leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu. Nothing, it seems, has changed. Virtually the only prime minister described as breaking the pattern is Yitzhak Rabin, who made the strategic choice of peace with the Palestinians. Rabin’s assassination “murdered hope,” says Yaakov Perry, the Shin Bet’s chief during the Palestinian uprising of the late 80s and early 90s. The assassin, Jewish extremist Yigal Amir, achieved his goal of stopping the peace process….
[Still,] … the film does not allow easy judgments. It unflinchingly shows terrorism as a reality, a form of evil. The footage of the aftermath of bombings in Israeli cities is almost unbearable to watch. ….
Yet a near-consensus emerges: The war cannot be won by military means and espionage. When you leave the service, when you have time to reflect, says Perry, you realize that you’ve become “a bit of a leftist.”….

And this is by Raphael Magarik, writing in the Open Zion blog at The Daily Beast:

…. “The Gatekeepers” is clearly inspired by Errol Morris’s non-confrontational handling of Vietnam planner Robert McNamara in “The Fog of War” (and [director] Moreh says as much in interviews). But “The Gatekeepers” is actually stronger than Morris’s original, partially because the Israeli history treated is more recent, but more because the six combined interviews give a profile of an institution, not just an individual. …

Read more at Open Zion

By | 2013-01-16T13:27:00-05:00 January 16th, 2013|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Anonymous January 16, 2013 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    Dear All,

    Five Broken Cameras is not an “Israeli documentary.” Please change your headline.

    Unfortunately, intentionally or not, this error, made by other media also, conjures up other examples of appropriation of Palestinian identity by Israel and its supporters – Palestinian land, homes, water, olive trees, hummus, falafel, etc.. All of this is called Israeli, while Palestinian identity is erased or obscured.

    Meretz claims to actively seek equality, yet it is very hard to see the Palestinian voices or identity in Meretz. This is another small example.

    Please at least take a look at Guy Davidi’s words (if you don’t care about Emad Burnat’s words) from his facebook page where he says it “is first and foremost also a Palestinian film.”


  2. Ron Skolnik January 16, 2013 at 8:02 pm - Reply

    You have a point, Ted, so we’ve updated the title and first line of this post.

    Thanks as well for the link, which includes the remarks by Guy Davidi, who takes a more nuanced and balanced view of the ‘ownership’ over the film than what comes across in that one pull-quote. For example, Davidi is quoted as saying, “the film is considered a Palestinian-Israeli-French production since there is finance from these countries and I’m Israeli, Emad is Palestinian, personally I don’t think films should have citizenships.”

    And while noting that the film is, “first and foremost also a Palestinian film,” he makes sure to pierce the simplistic, Manichean image of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

    Davidi: “There are dear Israelis, some of them also inside the establishment itself, who supported and lifted up the film, such as the New Fund for Cinema and Television, who were the most incredible and supportive partners for the making of the film, and who are facing an established system that is threatening their existence and independence. And there are the Palestinians and the Arab World, for whom this detail makes it difficult to accept the film, and the film can’t even be screened there because of that.”

    Davidi rightly notes that the Israel-Palestine discussion is a, “delicate and complicated conversation”.

  3. Ralph Seliger January 17, 2013 at 4:40 am - Reply

    “Five Broken Cameras” was clearly a collaboration, but Davidi was the creative engine for this project.
    When I interviewed him for The
    Forward, he indicated that the conception of the film was basically his, including the decision to use Burnat’s son’s growth from his toddler days, as a narrative frame. And Davidi wrote the script that Burnat used for the narration, albeit with Burnat’s consultation.

    Burnat was described by Davidi as a farmer who was an avid amateur photographer. But now he’s also a filmmaker, thanks to Davidi.

    If the Arab world boycotts this film because of its Israeli director and funding, this would say something very telling about its shortsightedness and prejudice.

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