Opening Lines: A film flotilla?

‘Budrus’ has garnered more international awards than any other recent documentary, and it hasn’t even been officially released yet.

311_Palestinian cool photo (photo credit: Just Vision)
311_Palestinian cool photo
(photo credit: Just Vision)
Today a documentary called Budrus premieres at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The film, an Israeli-Palestinian coproduction, chronicles the nonviolent resistance by villagers in Budrus, a small Palestinian farming community of some 1,500 people about 30 km. northwest of Ramallah and three km. from the Green Line, against the construction of the security barrier whose route cuts through the village’s land.
The 80-minute film is an intimate portrayal of the village’s struggle, through some 50 demonstrations, against the construction of the barrier. Much of the footage is taken from Israeli, Palestinian and international activists who were on the scene filming the unfolding events. It is a difficult film for anyone to watch, especially Israelis. While stones are thrown at soldiers towards the end of the campaign, IDF troops are seen beating up civilians, including women. Unarmed villagers, protecting their olive groves – to which they are bound for their livelihoods – with their bodies against fully armed soldiers and border police. Punches are thrown. Batons are wielded. Stun grenades are lobbed. Live ammunition is fired. Arrests are made. Bulldozers are seen uprooting olive trees. Israeli officers are filmed making remarks like, “why do you throw stones when you see Israelis? Where’s the respect?” The villagers are portrayed as a community banded together, struggling for the land they have lived on for generations against an occupying power erecting a barrier on Palestinian land.
The villagers are repeatedly shown saying they have no problem with Israel building a barrier to defend its citizens, but that the barrier should be built within Israel, not over the Green Line. While there is cursory mention of the security reasons for the construction of the barrier (the second intifada), the film focuses exclusively on the village’s struggle.
It is certainly not the first film documenting the battle between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank. But what piqued my interest and led me to attend a pre-screening in Tel Aviv is the fact that Budrus has garnered more international awards than any other documentary recently, and it hasn’t even been officially released yet.
AS OF this week, Budrus has won the audience award at the San Francisco and Berlin international film festivals. It won a special jury mention at the Tribeca Film Festival as well as at Documenta Madrid 2010. It won the Witness Award at the AFI/Discovery Channel Silverdocs documentary festival, and was feted at the Sixth Dubai International Film Festival (where it received a gala opening on the same level as Avatar).
Dubai rolled out the red carpet for it, hosting the Gulf’s big sheikhs at the opening event. Jordan’s Queen Noor gave a keynote speech after the film. Hotdocs called it “outspoken” and “outstanding.” Variety magazine called it “inspiring,” It received very positive press in Berlin and London. It has been screened in Thessaloniki, Rio and Sao Paulo. A glitzy panel was held for it in New York, with Queen Noor and Robert De Niro attending, and with Christiane Amanpour moderating. Michael Moore has even invited the film to his festival in Michigan. A panel was also held for it on Capitol Hill in DC, with private screenings for both Republican and Democrat lawmakers.
Coming at a time of a growing cultural and diplomatic boycott of Israel, when our international image is at one of its all-time lows, and within the context of persistent attacks against the Jewish state’s very legitimacy, the film, when it opens worldwide, will do no favors to the way the country is perceived abroad. Budrus’s creators say their intention was to highlight nonviolent conflict resolution as a way out of the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, not to paint Israel into a corner.
The film’s director, producers and marketers are reportedly making great progress in finding worldwide distribution. In September, Budrus will be screened at cinemas across the UK and Europe, with some potential TV deals too. In October it will open in America. It has already enjoyed a lot of attention in the international media and has been featured on Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi TV and many other outlets in the Middle East. It has applied to various film festivals in the Middle East, including in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. Dozens of Palestinian cities have requested screenings, and the producers are trying to get it on Israeli TV screens.
The film’s essence raises the question of whether nonviolent demonstrations have the potential to achieve Palestinian national goals. The answer, in the case of Budrus, is a resounding yes, evidenced by the fact that, as the film documents, a political-legal decision was ultimately taken to reroute the barrier away from the village and its olive groves. According to the IDF spokesman interviewed in the film, the demonstrations had nothing to do with the decision to reroute the barrier.
That may be true or not; what’s relevant is that anyone watching the film will come to the conclusion that the villagers’ persistent demonstrations forced the change. This brings to mind another recent forced change in Israeli policy: the “nonviolent” and “humanitarian” Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in whose wake Israel was forced, under international duress, to significantly relax its blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Budrus focuses on how the entire village mobilized against the barrier, and the assistance they received from Israeli activists. Thus, as the documentary’s poster reads: “It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth.” Nonviolent resistance to Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories, supported in recent months by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, is gaining significant international support, creating severe headaches for those whose task it is to explain Israeli policy.
Julia Bacha, Budrus’s Brazilian director, says it is a story of “Palestinian victory by unarmed popular resistance.” “The framing of the film is about the route of the barrier, but the movie is about community organization, how the villagers connect with Israeli activists, and the role of women. It is about capturing the imagination of what’s possible,” Bacha says.
The film ends with the protagonists heading to support their friends’ protest in Ni’lin, another Palestinian village fighting construction of the security barrier. The “promise” that the film’s thesis presents, that non-violent resistance can change Israeli policy, could serve as a model for similar films from other Palestinian hot spots such as Nabi Salah, Ni’lin, Bil’in, Sheikh Jarrah and possibly even Gaza. Israel’s policymakers would do well to watch the film, and take note of its reception across the world.