Friday, October 12, 2012

The Gatekeepers (2012) New York Film Festival 2012

A look at the Shin Bet, the Israeli Secret Service which is charged with keeping the country safe from terrorists. Once that was the PLO and Hamas, but now includes other threats including it's own people. The discussion comes in the form of interviews with 6 former heads of the organization and is both troubling and enlightening.

The film follows the growth of Shin Bet from 1967 until today. We see how the organization first went out and tried to find out as much as the Palestinians in the hopes of keeping things peaceful. We watch how  wars, illegal Israeli settlements and other factors and events  began to crank up the violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This is a great film. What I like is that the men being interviewed put it all on the line. They are speaking the truth as they see it and discuss their fears and worries. They also try to explain what they did, what worked and what went wrong (One man,after feigning a failing memory talks about the aftermath of a terrorist attack where the surviving terrorists were beaten to death, their heads bashed in with bricks.) These are men who speak their minds. They have seen and done things that clearly bother them and they have all had time to reflect on what works and what doesn't- their conclusions will surprise you.

This film will stun you into deep thought. The issues it raises are the sort of things that are any country dealing with terrorism or occupying another will have to face. As several of them comment it's all well and good to be making these decisions and knowing their cost, but the decisions they make are being implemented by teenagers who are being asked to go into frightened peoples homes in the middle of the night and who knows how it will all turn out. When it was done I sat for a good long while in silence, despite the gentleman next to me wanting to talk. I had much to think about.

If the film has any flaw, it's that you have to have at least a little bit of knowledge of Israeli history since events are mentioned and it assumes you know what they are.

After the premiere the director, Dror Moreh, came out with Amy Taubin from the Festival Selection Committee to do a Q&A.

Taubin asked about where the film came from and how did he get access to the men profiled.  Moreh said that the film arose out of his feeling that the wake of the death of Prime Minister Rabin the country was going wrong. Making contact with one of the men (forgive I don't remember which one) interviewed he said that he wanted to do a film like Errol Morris's The Fog of War. Would he be willing to help? The man said yes, and he said yes to helping to wrangle to other heads of Shin Bet.

Taubin threw a few softballs Moreh's way before they opened it up to the floor... and turned up the heat in the auditorium.

The first man who asked a question was way at the front and it was clear from the reaction from the stage that it was more a statement then a question. It had something to do with Moreh's point of view. Why didn't he show the other side of things? I think he wanted to know why he was challenging the way thing done to keep the Israeli's was hard to hear but it something about his grandson who was in Israel. (Forgive me no one was miced except those on stage so it made hearing some of the people damn near impossible.) The response to the comment was that Moreh said that he understands the man's concern because his own son is about to go into the military but that he found that it was still necessary to make the film.

One person asked about Iran (much to every one's annoyance). Moreh tried to explain that he didn't know about the Iranian situation and that he hadn't discussed it with his interview subjects so he couldn't give an answer.

He was asked about how people should view events in the Middle East in this country. He said that we should all stay as informed as possible and consider very carefully who we vote for.

Another Iran question or two began to get things heated as the director tried to explain that that wasn't what the film was about and that it was off topic. Despite recording I think someone said about 70 hours of material it didn't cover every topic. (Moreh also said a great deal was cut including the story of one of the former directors life from pre-Nazi Germany onward)

What was supposed to be the last question brought screams from all sides. Some woman began a long monologue about Iran and Israel and began to rant about things. Both Amy Taubin and Moreh tried to stop her and say it had been covered but she went on going as the people around her began to shout her down. One man walked up to her and began to shout in her face and ear to be quiet, he walked away and then came back when she refused to be silenced... I heard some of what she was saying before she was shouted down but I still don't know what she was going on and on about.

To try and gain control of the situation Amy Taubin asked the audience for one more question as the woman continued....

The question was When is the film coming out in the US and how was it received in Israel? It appears the film will get a spring US release. As for the reaction in Israel, it had only two low key showings at the Jerusalem Film Festival, where the current head on Shin Bet attended. He said that the film will be released there before the next election there (due in a matter of months).

The last question asked, the event was over. Some approached the director for autographs others spoke to the lady who was shouted down...

I headed home to search for a good nights sleep.

Decidedly one of the more important and thought provoking films of the festival I can't wait to see it again so I can try to get even more brain food from the film.

A must see.

The final Festival screening was tonight- but it is coming back so keep an eye out.

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