Friday, February 22, 2013

Dror Moreh's THE GATEKEEPERS expands in NYC and L.A., while opening elsewhere

"Interesting -- but it didn't tell us anything we didn't already know -- or couldn't figure out," said the friend who accompanied me to the screening of THE GATEKEEPERS, which has just expanded in New York City to Film Forum and City Cinema 123. She's right, but the thing that makes this film worth seeing and considering is just who is doing the telling. The talking-heads here are six men who, over the years, have led the Shin Bet, Israel's secret service organization in charge of overseeing the country's "war on terror" -- initially against Arabs but later against Israelis, too. (Remember the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a super-right-wing Israeli law student?)

The new documentary, nominated for an Oscar this year and directed and co-produced by Dror Moreh (shown at right), brings together these Shin Bet leaders (all six are shown below) and gets them to talk on record for the first time. Why did they do it? I am guessing (and from what they say, this would seem to be the case) that they feel the current and recent past Israeli governments are going down exactly the wrong path -- toward further war, death and destruction rather than toward anything peaceful. And since these are the men who, over the decades, have had to deal with leaders on both sides of the fence and who understand what is going on perhaps better than any others -- including, especially, most politicians -- one might think that attention should be paid.

The message here is no read-between-the-line kind of thing. Instead, it's rather clear, really, and is evidently felt -- to some degree, at least -- by all six of the men interviewed.  While these interviews are done individually, it might have been even more eye-and-ear-opening to have had these guys together in one room at the same time. No doubt they'd not have agreed to that one.

As it is, some of things they say seem a tad self-serving, and occasionally contradictory, but the most important thing to Mr. Moreh (and to most of us viewers, too, I suspect) is the sense that a change in policy by the Israeli government is necessary and long past due. Looking the other way, turning a blind eye, and allowing the settlements in the occupied territory of the Palestinians to move forward and the settlers to get away with most anything they want: All of this must end. The men appear to have come to a more conciliatory stance, with -- yes! -- a Palestinian/Arab state as part of the solution.

Not that these guys seem in any way "soft" on terrorists. Though, as noted by the most recent Shin Bet leader, Yuval Diskin (above), Israel and the Shin Bet themselves are perceived by the other side as "terrorists." Even to an Israeli intelligence agent, it would seem, there are limits. The six men are clearly smart, well-spoken and surprisingly open; it is difficult to imagine top men from our own CIA being half as honest as what we see here. (That's Avraham Shalom, below, who reigned from 1980-86 and was, according to one of the other fellows interviewed, something of a "bully.")

In the course of the film's 95 minutes, we hear pieces of the interviews and see some historic footage pliced in for variety and additional substance. This includes photos (in each case, the one below the current shot of the man) of the older men in their younger days, which has a certain charm and interest. We hear and see (in what I take to be staged recreations, as below) something of the Shin Bet's greatest hits (the assassination of one of the top "terrorists" Yahya Ayyash) and greatest misses (a one-ton bomb dropped on a house that killed a bunch of civilians but missed its intended target, and of course the Rabin assassination, for which, we are told, the Shin Bet was totally unprepared).

Last November another Israeli documentary opened here in New York City (also at Film Forum) that accomplished, I think, quite a bit more than does The Gatekeepers. Made by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz and titled The Law in These Parts (my full review from the time is here), this documentary -- in which the filmmaker interviews retired judges who enacted the laws that have ruled and still rule the occupied territories quite differently for Arabs and Jews -- is much harder-hitting and of a more "activist" slant. It does not allow its interviewees leeway to set their own stage. Alexandrowicz asks specific questions, for which he demands real answers and won't accept anything less.

Mr. Moreh's movie has, I think, an agenda, and it's a good and sensible one of pushing Israel and us viewers toward conciliation and a dual state. The Law in These Parts may have something similar in mind down the road, but it is first concerned with justice now, and it demonstrates pretty thoroughly why this does not look likely any time soon. By all means, see The Gatekeepers, but don't stop there. Watch The Law in These Parts, as well (it's from Cinema Guild and I hope will be available soon on DVD, VOD and/or streaming), for a fuller understanding of the situation.

The Gatekeepers, from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing at three theaters each in New York City and the Los Angeles area. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters, around the country.

The penulitmate photo above is of Carmi Gillon, who served as Shin Bet head from 1994-96; the final photo, just above, is of Ami Ayaon, who served after Gillon, from 1996-2000. The photo of Dror Moreh, second from top, is by Kevork Djansezian, courtesy of Getty Images.

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