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Isidore Rosmarin's documentary Blood and Tears, claims in its press materials to "reveal the true history of the Arab-Israeli conflict." But of course, there is never just one "true history" in any conflict that can speak for the experiences and suffering of both sides.
Having premiered in several locations in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza last week, Blood and Tears attempts to be the definitive chronicle of a conflict in a mere 73 minutes.
"I wanted the documentary to be 60 minutes on the inside, MTV on the outside," Rosmarin explained in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "I wanted to target college campuses and Americans who don't know very much about the issue."
Indeed, the film begins much like a music video, albeit one produced on a very limited budget. The audience is inundated with frenetic, vaguely ethnic music, constantly changing images of soldiers, tanks, exploding bombs and, to top it off, sound bites from different interviews. The opening sequence is designed to catch the viewer's attention, but the effect it creates is dizzying, lending a rather flattened, detached quality to truly violent images.
Blood and Tears does, however, make an impressive effort to interview a wide range of people on both sides: there is the assasinated Hamas leader Dr. Adel Aziz al-Rantisi, several respected university professors, Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Saeb Erekat.
Most of the experts are articulate and make interesting points, but the everyday person living the conflict is covered in a predominantly superficial manner. For example, the film includes an interview with a Palestinian physician living in a refugee camp in Gaza. He talks movingly of wanting better conditions for his people, but soon we move on to another interview, and hear nothing more about the doctor, his family, or how he copes with such teeming poverty.
While the film does present both Israeli and Palestinian points of view, it lacks scope. Visually, there is not much to see or to be moved by, save for the bursts of violent imagery. At a certain point, the audience needs to see the context of the interviewees' lives, and the brief sound bites offered by the sit down interviews in this film can only express so much.
"The only hope for peace," says Rosmarin, who has worked as a producer and writer for television shows such as 60 Minutes and Dateline NBC, "is person to person interaction, seeing each other as individuals and not demonizing each other."
Surely, this is a worthy perspective, but it is unfortunately neglected in Blood and Tears. The film shows almost no positive interactions between Palestinians and Israelis.
Rosmarin claims he made the documentary because "there was a lack of understanding of the real issues after the second intifada began. I wanted to set the record straight by providing a balanced and factually accurate account of the conflict."
The film is certainly straightforward, and does provide several viewpoints, but it also almost always shies away from the hard questions. At a few points during the movie, an interviewee will talk about the "moral dilemma" facing Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank, but this topic is barely touched upon. A more thoughtful film would delve into the moral issues surrounding occupation, rather than ignoring questions that make some people uncomfortable. Instead, we have one female soldier talking about having to tell her mother "I killed someone today," before the film cuts to another interview.
Incredibly, Rosmarin barely addresses the issue of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. West Bank resident Eve Harrow talks about the "clash of civilizations," and the film cuts to tearful scenes of people forced to leave their homes of 30 years. But there is absolutely no discussion about why the pullout was taking place.And although the film includes instances of Palestinian terror, there is no talk of the violence perpetrated by settlers.
"Those are very isolated incidents," claims Rosmarin. "The settlers are vocal and strident, but they're not blowing up buses."
For a film that purports to cover the conflict in a comprehensive way and intends to elucidate its issues for those less informed abroad, such gaps in information are no small issue.
"We wanted the film to promote dialogue, bridge building and understanding," insists Rosmarin. "We tried to raise questions, we don't have answers."
Nor should Rosmarin be expected to have all the answers to a conflict that is so complex and emotionally charged. But "bridge building" cannot be achieved by a film with only a cursory treatment of the conflict at hand.