Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Gatekeepers

DocPoint, Kinopalatsi 2, Helsinki, 26 Jan 2013

Hannes Nissinen: "The designated task of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret service, is to defend the country from terrorism. In the film by Dror Moreh, six previous Shin Bet directors speak out publicly for the first time about their views on the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The film covers events all the way from the Six-Day War until today’s utilization of unmanned drone planes. The film composes a picture of heavyweight gatekeepers and decision making of the highest level, where everything is carried out by the middlemen."

"Even though the film brings forth the perspectives of the Israeli security leaders, the moral weighing is left for the spectator. The Gatekeepers won the Best Documentary Award in the LA Film Critics Association annual awards." (Hannes Nissinen | translation by Juha Nurminen)

Director: Dror Moreh
96 min, Belgium, Israel, France, Germany, 2012
Original title: Shomerei Ha’Saf
Format: 2K DCP
Photography: Avner Shahaf
Editor: Oron Adar
Sound: Alex Claude
Production: Dror Moreh, Estelle Fialon, Philippa Kowarsky / Dror Moreh Productions, Les Films du Poisson, Cinephil
Additional info: The Gatekeepers in nominated for the best feature documentary Academy Award in 2013.

In Hebrew with English subtitles

Featuring Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon, Yaakov Peri, and Avraham Shalom.

Wikipedia: "The Gatekeepers (Hebrew: שומרי הסף) is a 2012 documentary film by director Dror Moreh that tells the story of the Israeli Shin Bet from the perspective of six former heads of Israel’s secretive internal security service. It combines in-depth interviews with archival footage and computer animation to recount the role that the group played in Israel’s security from the Six Day War to the present. It is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 85th Academy Awards."

"In interviews, Moreh explains that he was inspired to make the film after watching Errol Morris’s Academy Award-winning documentary The Fog of War. Having just completed a film about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, he came to realize the decisive role that the Shin Bet had played behind the scenes for the past forty years. Ami Ayalon was the first head of the Shin Bet to agree to be interviewed for the film."

"The problem, according to Moreh, was to get the “Gatekeepers,” or former heads of the Shin Bet to agree to appear on camera to discuss their work. Given the secretive nature of the organization, none of them had ever done this before, and many of the topics he hoped to discuss with them were either classified or highly sensitive."

"Despite this initial difficulty, Moreh contacted one of the “Gatekeepers,” Ami Ayalon, who had since been elected to the Knesset for the Labor Party and was serving as a Minister without Portfolio in the Security Cabinet. Much to his surprise, Ayalon not only agreed to participate, he also helped Moreh contact the other surviving former heads of the Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, and Avi Dichter. The sixth participant in the film, Yuval Diskin, was still serving as head of the Shin Bet at the time."

"Though all the men agreed to participate, some were reluctant initially to discuss various incidents associated with their careers. Shalom, for instance, did not want to discuss his role in the hijacking of the 300 bus and summary execution of two of the terrorists, though the ensuing scandal ultimately led to his resignation. Over time, however, and with careful prodding, he agreed to discuss even that, and it now features as one of the film’s seven segments."

"The film consists of seven segments:

1. No Strategy, Just Tactics: covering the emerging role of the Shin Bet from the Six Day War and the occupation of the Palestinian territories.
2. Forget About Morality: about the 300 bus incident.
3. One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter: about the peace process following the Oslo Accords.
4. Our Own Flesh and Blood: about Jewish terrorism, including the Jewish Underground and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
5. Victory Is to See You Suffer: about negotiations with the Palestinians during the Second Intifada.
6. Collateral Damage: about the assassination of Yahya Ayyash and other prominent Hamas activists.
7. The Old Man at the End of the Corridor: consisting of reflections on the activities of the Shin Bet and their ethical and strategic impact on the State of Israel.

"Though the film follows a loose chronological order, each of these segments also delves into topics such as the controversy surrounding collateral damage, the efficacy of torture, and the morality of targeted assassination. These personal confessions and reflections are among the most powerful moments of the film. Especially noteworthy is Avraham Shalom’s statement that, “On the other hand it's a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II. Similar, not identical,” and Yaakov Peri’s statement that, “These moments end up etched deep inside you, and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist.”"

"The events described in the film are illustrated with archival footage and computer-generated imagery that brings historic photographs to life. An example of this is the computer-generated reenactment of the 300 bus incident, based on photographs and eyewitness accounts. The film's computer animations were created by the French company Mac Guff."

Political and historical documentary film making of the highest order. The Gatekeepers not only presents a compelling view of already existing information, but it is in itself a powerful new fact - that all the six directors of Shin Bet share the basic view, deeply committed to the Oslo Accords, deeply concerned about the current politics of the Israeli government. The final discussion is based on Clausewitz, about true victory as a better political reality. If the policy of the Oslo Accords is not pursued, "we lose the war".

The Gatekeepers is more thrilling than most thrillers. Chronologically, the main story starts during the 1982 Lebanon War when Shin Bet acquired new prominence with its effective methods. The Gatekeepers is also a history of the Palestinian situation until the present. There is a feeling of honesty in the account. I kept being amazed by the revelations, small and great. Among the general observations: "intelligence agencies fail to foresee major events".

The Gatekeepers is also an account of Jewish extremist terrorism (the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the plan to destroy the Dome of the Rock).

In the conclusion, there is no old man at the door. Peace can't be made by military means. There is no alternative to talking. "We do not want a Shin Bet state." "When you see a family suffering, it gets etched deep inside." "We do not want to make the lives of millions unbearable." "We have become cruel to ourselves, as well."

The visualizations of Shin Bet premises and vaults are not documentary records of real facilities, and the "surveillance imagery" is computer generated animation made for the movie.

Visual quality: fine 2K digital for the interviews, compilation quality for the rest.

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