Sunday, February 17, 2013

No End in Sight

I had the good fortune to watch Dror Moreh's riveting documentary "The Gatekeepers" last night. As an aside, I want to say that I love living in LA (not bragging, by the way) where I can drive less than two miles to a theater -- in this case, the Laemmle Town Center -- that actually plays thought-provking flims like this. Their slogan is "Not Afraid of Subtitltes" and let me assure you my wife and I are not.

A brief summary: Shin Bet is the not-so-secret organziation in Israel that has been tasked, since the 1967 war with protecting the country against terrorist attacks. From the time it was first founded, to today, as you might imagine, its mission has undergone a significant change. In fact, it is hard to tell if anyone, even the eponymous "gatekeepers" -- the series of heads of Shin Bet who were interviewed for the film -- even know today what they are supposed to be doing. At one time, when the 'enemy' seemed to be clearly the Palestinian 'terrorists' such as the PLO, it was perhaps pretty clear. Today, with Islamic extremism expressing itself in many, many forms and all around the world, it is perhaps impossible to say what Shin Bet shold really be doing. Tracking down terrorists - if so, which onces?

It is the posing of this question -- deftly through interviews with every Shin Bet director from the beginning, to the most recent -- in combination with archival footage and a haunting score by Regis Baillet and Jermoe Chassagnard (as Ab Ovo) that makes this Oscar-nonimated piece so powerful. I have not seen such a skillfully assembled documentary, which makes its primary case as compellingly is "The Gatekeepers" does, in quite a long time.

One aspect of my personal experience watching this film has to do with the fact that my family and I recently visited Israel. It was my first time in that remarkable country, and having seen first-hand how divided it really is gave me a deep appreciation of the complexity, and nuance of the Irsael/Palestine conflict. But "The Gatekeepers" isn't soley an interrogation of the 'problem' of Palestine. The decision to interview the heads of Shin Bet lends an eerie credence to Moreh's film, and their disarming honesty makes it difficult to judge them too harshly, regardless of your political opionons.

If you love Israel, the Middle East or just great documentary filmmaking, get thee to "The Gatekeepers".

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