From the outset this was being touted as a controversial film, coming as it did when Israeli Defence Forces had moved into Lebanon and were engaged in aggressive action. From the outside too this sounds like it should be a tough film, as it chronicles the imposed evacuation of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip by the very same IDF.
That makes the film sound terribly strong and a very emotive topic. Surprisingly though, it isn't controversial at all. It shows a surprising control of the people involved, as well as an understanding and respectfulness for each of the camps.
Using nine film crews Yoav Shamir follows various people involved in the evacuation through the five day period leading up to the final move. Crews were fixed with front line soldiers, the hard line settlers, the protestors shipping in from around Israel, and the General of the Southern Command, the man in charge of the entire operation.
This was a major coup for the documentary, and this man provides the central focus of the movie. He's both funny and quite imposing, and the Producers managed to secure access as he was ex IDF.
All of this provides for some fascinating footage into the events and how the Israeli army operates. There's also a common belief that people in these countries tend to have hotter tempers and that they explode quite easily. I have to say when I was in Israel it was quite the opposite and I loved the country (although it was hot!), and that is what comes across in this documentary.
There are no fiery tempers, the closest we get are intense discussions, and people are calm, open and very understanding. That's what surprised me, despite these people being shipped out of their homes and relocated away from some gorgeous beaches in a beautiful land, an act which is considered against their religion - giving up holy land - both sides still retain their demeanour and humanity.
Of course this makes for less exciting cinema you might say, despite the plight of real people, seeing this kind of behaviour on screen isn't exciting cinema.
That's where you'd be wrong, for the film pulls out how understanding and non-violent everyone can be, and it makes for some incredibly emotional scenes. Seeing the General arrive at a prayer meeting in a training camp that's to be evacuated is indeed an eye opener. He and his troops join in the prayers and singing and there are many tears, including from the General himself.
It's these moments from the General and his immediate officers that are perhaps the most enlightening and are the key to the film. Yet there are some amazing moments of comedy, particularly from the General, his disbelief at one of his men who continually says the wrong thing is very amusing, especially as he expresses it directly in front of the camera.
The documentary successfully captures both sides of the situation in a clear voice, not only that but they really do manage to avoid making any accusations, laying any blame, or making any political based statements. This is one of the great strengths of the film because it then allows us to see an unbiased and completely open view of the events, something the press don't allow.
The result of this is that neither side seems right or wrong. As Shamir says early on in the film, it almost seems like a game is being played between the two sides, or indeed a play and each has their part to act out in order to gain International recognition.
The documentary has a slight cinematic feel to it, using music throughout to depict mood and emotion. This is something that worked really well and helped to reinforce events on screen.
This is a very strong documentary which is really well edited. It shows a side to this issue that the press haven't shown, that of understanding, tolerance and of peace. Well worth watching.
Shamir attended the screening and we had a Q&A session after the screening. Prior to the film someone had asked who paid for him to get here and the audience were politely asked not to give him a hard time, he was our guest.
Perhaps the gentleman should have read Filmstalker to know that ages ago it was announced the Festival were paying for him to come over and not the Israeli artistic grant that usually would have. My thoughts are that this in itself was taking a stance and he should have been treated as any other filmmaker. Regardless there was nothing to worry about as the film didn't evoke the controversy expected.
The film closes with perhaps the most pertinent question that could have been asked. After the campaign was complete Shamir asked the General why this effort, planning, soldiers and cash wasn't thrown at other conflicts they faced. The General's response shall forever remain a secret as he, for seemingly the first time, responds off camera.
Shamir filmed some of the Q&A as it happened and answered quite a number of questions.
The film didn't set out from the beginning to be the five day lead up, and they filmed the training and preparation of the soldiers who were at the front line of the evacuation.
During the training the soldiers, actually desk and non-combatant soldiers, carried out role playing where some would take the roles of the settlers and others would be the force trying to remove them without violence.
Interestingly someone asked why the soldiers wore black. Apparently this was due to them being non-combatant soldiers and they didn't have army fatigues, so they used police uniforms which are black. Black is also the uniform colour of the Special Forces in Israel so this gave them a gravitas when out on the streets.
Shamir is now going to be working on two films, one looking at anti-semitic feeling, how it comes about and what the extent of it is, the other is about what can happen to soldiers after they return from conflict. Some disappear to India while others enter mental hospitals.
He also claims to be working on a musical, true or not, that might be interesting, especially if he retains his subject focus!