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The Gatekeepers

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

The Gatekeepers

From The Gatekeepers. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.


• “When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist,” says one of the interviewees in Dror Moreh’s The Gatekeepers, a statement that helps explain why six retired heads of Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) agreed to share candid insights into their shadowy and frequently lethal profession. While I’ve only seen clips from the Oscar-nominated documentary at time of writing, it’s easy to see why it’s been hailed for its revelatory and gripping take on Israel’s rocky history in the 45 years since the Six-Day War in 1967.

Much like Errol Morris’s excellent portrait of US Cold War warrior Robert S. McNamara did in The Fog of War, The Gatekeepers examines how behind-the-scenes hard men rationalize the violence of their profession and the moral and legal grey areas surrounding their work. The film, in Hebrew with English subtitles, offers detailed insights into the world of past Israeli covert ops, with its vast network of Palestinian informers and where a target can be neatly “neutralized” with a booby-trapped cell phone with no “collateral damage.” As well as archive footage, it uses reenactments and computer generated animation for added immediacy.

While revealing a certain amount of professional pride in their achievements, the interviewees share a deep-rooted distrust of their political masters, as well as regret over the failures of the secret service; in particular, not foreseeing the mass uprising of ultra-right Jews in the Occupied Territories known as the Intifada and the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by a Jewish terrorist.

Why are these secretive individuals choosing to step into the limelight now? Probably because it provides an opportunity to set records straight and perhaps even to assuage one’s conscience. But it also seems to sound the alarm about the direction Israel is taking. “A brutal occupation force that is similar to the Germans in World War Two” is how the grandpop-looking Avraham Shalom (1980-1986) describes the current regime. Like all the former Shin Bet heads interviewed, he advocates negotiating with the terrorists over Israel’s big issues such as the two- state solution and the settlements. The suggestion is that, without a more progressive approach, in the words of war hero Ami Ayalon (1996-2000), “We win every battle, but we lose the war.”

The 8th annual Women in Film Festival (www.womeninfilm.ca) runs at Vancity Theatre March 7-10. A great networking event and a chance to meet local and international women filmmakers, the festival includes award ceremonies, industry panels, a party on International Women’s Day (8th), post screening discussions and a free shorts screening. A real mix of films will be screened and what they all have in common is that all the films were chosen based on women filling at least three of the key creative roles: writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor, composer or lead performer. Among the films are the US redemption drama Rumblestrips about a mum and two girls on a road trip from the Pacific Northwest to the Rio Grande and the Belgian drama Little Black Spiders, focussing on the relationships between a group of pregnant girls waiting to have their babies in a secret refuge run by nuns.

Robert Alstead is making the documentary Running on Climate (www.runningonclimate.com).

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