Strolling around the streets surrounding Dizengoff Center in central Tel Aviv, one could easily be in any vibrant city in the world. Bustling shoppers dart through the crowds, stores swell with clusters of fashionably dressed teenagers talking on their cell phones, and coffee shops at every corner buzz with daily banter.
But there is one sobering difference between these streets and those in other countries. Every now and then one stumbles across a pocket of grieving memory, a silent and unassuming testimony to the merciless actions of a suicide bomber.
Patches, one of the contending entries in Tel Aviv's upcoming annual documentary film festival DocAviv, tells the story behind one of these memorials, for the 13 victims of the suicide bombing at Dizengoff Center on Purim, 1996.
Filmmaker Camilla Butchins, who has a BFA in cinema studies from Tel Aviv University, directed, produced and co-edited Patches, a film which started out as a personal project. On completion, Butchins' film was not only nominated to be part of DocAviv's student film competition, but was even pursued by the Qatar-based satellite television, Al Jazeera, which has since bought rights to broadcast the film.
The film documents the story of Butchins' mother, Marlyn Butchins, who lost her own mother and sister in the Dizengoff bombing. Marlyn came up with an idea to create a series of mini-quilts to be displayed at the annual memorial service held at the site of the terror attack.
Each quilt represents a life lost in the bombing. Patches tracks Marlyn's progress as she makes contact with the families of the 11 other victims.
In a quaint little coffee shop close to where her aunt and grandmother died, Camilla Butchins explains the motivation behind her film.
"Traditionally, memorial ceremonies in Israel - of which there are countless - take on a dry, routine formulaâ€¦ always intent on appealing to the lowest common denominator - pain. With Patches I wanted to break with Israel's dictation of what a memorial should be."
The film begins with a radio broadcast reporting on the annual memorial service for fallen soldiers. This opening scene sets a somber mood, but as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Butchins intends to break with the "expected memorial formula."
"My film is about memory, as opposed to being a memorial," she says. "In a lot of ways it is more about the people living than about those who died."
In her opening narrative, Butchins relates how her mother feels that the lives of those lost in this particular attack have become little more than statistics - a drop in what has sadly become a vast ocean of bloodshed in Israel.
Patches goes against the expected conventions of the traditional memorial which, in Butchins' opinion, minimize the memories of the dead, making them mere numbers, names on a list, bound by stone engravings for the sake of the protocol of testimony.
The film itself is constructed much like a quilt. Snippets of action and dialogue overlap each other in what could be perceived as a hodgepodge of ideas and themes. It may appear random in its direction, which Butchins readily acknowledges.
"I never had a pre-conceived idea of how the film was going to go. There was never a mapped out structure to follow. My gut reaction to the footage was my greatest influence in editing."
But as the narrative progresses, it becomes evident that this chaotic structure is the secret behind the film's ability to so intimately communicate the lives of those lost and celebrate the lives of the people behind the names on the plaque.
The film dips in and out of the families' homes, giving the viewer an intimate glance at their private recollections. An earnest and honest dialogue flows, as relatives discuss which colors, textures, fabrics and images should blend to create a representation of their loved ones. Butchins' fly-on-the-wall style transgresses standard documentary boundaries, creating an intimate, heart-wrenching narrative.
Another way Butchins' film breaks with convention is through its conspicuous lack of political narrative. One would naturally expect to find some discussion of politics in an Israeli-made film about the deaths of those lost in a suicide bombing.
But Butchins is fiercely adamant that her film will not get lost to a vortex of political debate.
"The 1996 bombing took place during a particularly fragile period politically. [Prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin had just been assassinated, Bibi [Netanyahu] was coming into the equation, the mood was tense," she says. "Patches is not meant to be a vehicle for political statements and discussion. I wanted to prove that it is possible to bridge gaps between people regardless of cause, focusing on effect instead. It was important to omit ideas of hatred or anger.
"The idea of quilting is practically unknown in Israel, and this project brought together otherwise separated people...language and cultural barriers were broken down for the sake of this shared experience. The quilt built bridges where before they would have gone unnoticed. The families embraced the previously alien art [of quilting] for the sake of this one common link."
Apart from its obvious connotations, the film's title is also indicative of the message behind the film. "Patches represents not only the physical patches of memory for each person, but like the powers of a band-aid to heal a wound, I want my film to act in the healing process of those left behind."
Patches is showing at the Docaviv film festival - Tel Aviv Cinematheque on Sunday March 18 at 1pm. Entrance to this film is free.
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