This is my Land...Hebron takes a distressing look at Israeli-Palestinian relations.
The Toronto Palestine Film Festival is, almost by definition, a political event. Whatever story a filmmaker tells, whether it's dramatic or documentary, is going to challenge the preconceptions of a Western audience - whatever those preconceptions may be.
On Saturday (September 29), the Bloor kicks off the festival with the Canadian premiere of Abdallah Salem Omeish's The War Around Us (rating: NNN). The documentary recounts the experiences of two Al-Jazeera journalists, veteran reporter Ayman Mohyeldin and his untested producer, Sherine Tadros, who were on assignment in Gaza on November 4, 2008, when Israel launched a military strike on the territory, breaking a four-month ceasefire with Hamas and starting a war that lasted more than two months.
Mohyeldin and Tadros would be the only reporters covering the violence, and their horrific footage of dead and injured civilians killed in the shelling puts the lie to Israeli claims that only "surgical strikes" were performed. (A United Nations school was one of the targets; Israeli spokespeople said it was being used as a terrorist refuge, a claim the UN vehemently denies.)
Omeish does his best to make the doc as vivid and dramatic as possible, shooting his present-day interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros from angles meant to suggest surveillance cameras and tracking the documentary with a score straight out of a Bourne movie. It's nervy but ultimately unnecessary; if the footage alone doesn't whip up your anger, you're just not paying attention.
This Is My Land... Hebron (rating: NNNN), screening Wednesday (October 3) at Jackman Hall, takes a different but similarly distressing perspective on Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Directors Guilia Amati and Stephen Natanson examine the perpetually agitated state of affairs in the West Bank town, where some 600 Israeli settlers and 2,000 soldiers seem to being going out of their way to make life unpleasant for their 160,000 Palestinian neighbours with random curfews, checkpoints and offensive graffiti. (The Palestinians come across as more resigned to the situation than offended by it, which is somehow more awful.)
If you missed this when it screened in the Human Rights Watch Film Festival earlier this year, it's well worth a look now.