A tale of three takes

“It’s a human experience that the viewers can identify with."

Ayelet Bachar (photo credit: ITAI BACHAR)
Ayelet Bachar
(photo credit: ITAI BACHAR)
There are artists who like to have a plan of action – a sort of basic framework for what the fruits of their creative minds will eventually produce. However, a true propounder of envelope-pushing fare must be prepared to go with the flow too, to ride the bumps and deal with the surprises that come suddenly and veer into view as the vehicle for their project trundles on.
Take 3, which will screen at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival on July 13 (2:45 p.m.) as part of the second batch of seven Israeli Shorts Competition entrants, is a definitively serendipitous affair from start to finish. The title of the documentary stems from the fact that it feeds off the synthesis to two earlier documentary works – Ram Loevy’s Barriers, made in 1969, and The Inner Tour, directed by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz, which came out in 2000.
Both Loevy and Alexandrowicz focused on the same man, Hussein Abu Muhammad Yahya, who hailed from a West Bank village called Anaba, which has now been incorporated into the area of Anava northwest of Jerusalem. As Take 3 director Ayelet Bechar unequivocally points out towards the end of the film with a shot of the gargantuan Anava interchange and flyover, there is simply no going back.
As the prevailing project zeitgeist had it, Bechar came across the Loevy effort a few years back at a Hadocu Harishon Sheli (My First Documentary) gathering of the Israeli Forum of Documentary Filmmakers. Bechar was MC for the slot at which documentarists presented their first fruits. As luck would have it, the guest artist for her session was Loevy, who fortuitously chose Barriers as the subject of his presentation. It was the first documentary Loevy made for the IBA.
In Barriers, Loevy sought to shed a little apolitical light on the aftermath of the War of Independence by zeroing in on one Jewish Israeli family and one Palestinian family who had suffered tragedy due to the hostilities. Two members of the Israeli family were killed in the war, while two of the Palestinians died while the family was running away.
The Q&A session that followed the screening of Barriers included a comment by David Ofek, a celebrated documentarist in his own right, who happens to be married to Bechar, who was in the audience. “He told Rami [Loevy] that he had not seen such a succinct presentation of a refugee returning to his village since he watched The Inner Tour in 2000,” Bechar recalls. “Rami’s response was to tell the story of how he encountered Ra’anan’s film [The Inner Tour].”
The latter occurred when Loevy went to a film editing facility to work on another documentary and happened to catch a frame or two from The Inner Tour. “I looked at a screen in the studio and I saw the same person, standing in the same place, with the same person praying, kneeling, with the same thorn in the foreground – only it was in color,” Loevy notes in Take 3. “How could that be? Then I met Ra’anan, who didn’t know anything about my film. That is what happened – Take 2.” Hence the sequential title of Bechar’s film.
Neither director really knew of the other’s work. “Ra’anan thought he knew about the film, but didn’t really connect it to Rami, or didn’t think it was important for his project,” says Bechar. In fact, it turned out that Alexandrowicz had not seen Barriers. “When I showed it to Ra’anan, at a later stage, he realized that he was watching it for the first time. It was a powerful experience for Ra’anan because he suddenly saw Abu Muhammad when he dreamt of having a better life.”
At one stage of Take 3 Bechar neatly offers the viewer a split screen with black-and-white footage from the 1969 Loevy work on the left and the color footage from 2000 on the right. We see Abu Muhammad following the same pastoral route, passing the cactuses, carob trees and wild grass that now abound across the site of the no-longer-visible village. It is a fundamentally poignant interface.
As we know only too well, it is well-nigh impossible to be apolitical in this part of the world, even if you set out to be. Someone will always pop along and construe, or misconstrue, your ideas as pertaining to some side of the political divide. That, of course, is inescapably the case when the subject matter centers on a Palestinian refugee returning to the location of his pre-1948 home.
Politics aside, it is quite incredible that both Loevy and Alexandrowicz chose Abu Muhammad as their human linchpin.
“I asked [Abu Muhammad’s son] Aadel why he thought both filmmakers had chosen him and his father to represent the Palestinian people,” says Bechar. “He said that, first, his father was a benevolent character. Second, he told me, his father believed there should be a compromise [between Israel and the Palestinians], which is a politically charged thing for Palestinians.”
There are other parallels. In Barriers we see Abu Muhammad returning to the site of Anaba together with his son and a friend. The son, Aadel, was 10 years old at the time. In The Inner Tour we see Aadel, now 55 and a professor of archeology, checking out the environs of Anaba with his own 10-year-old son, Kais. There’s more. In addition to his archeological work, Aadel founded the Palestinian Association for Cultural Exchange (PACE). A few years back Bechar was on a PACE press trip to Gaza, led by Aadel, and it was only when she got down to the business of making Take 3 that she put two and two together.
There is the odd dash of humor in Take 3, albeit of a somewhat dark hue, betwixt the emotive stuff. In one scene Adel and Kais check out some sabra fruit, just as Aadel had done three decades earlier with his own father. Aadel notes that they could do with a knife, to help them peel the fruit: “but the Israeli army would have thought we were going to use it to stab a Jew. So, it’s better without knives and without sabras,” he notes sagaciously.
Both Abu Muhammad and Aadel died shortly after the respective films were completed. While the former appears to be well into his “golden years,” his son was only 56, but unbeknownst to Bechar, he was dying of cancer.
At the end of the day, Take 3 comes across as gentle a take as possible on a very intimate story.
“It’s a human experience that the viewers can identify with,” says Alexandrowicz. “Perhaps this familiar situation will confuse the viewers and bring them closer to the point of view of the other.”
For more information about the Jerusalem Film Festival: www.jff.org.il/.