A documentary finds hope in the shared sentiments of Palestinians and Israelis
“You can’t imagine my life,” says 83-year-old Palestinian refugee Jamal Khalil via translator, in James Marks’ new two-volume documentary The Shape of the Future. “Life today is miserable.”
Israel, Palestine, and their shared enmity have been fixtures in the news, the media, and the worldwide public consciousness for more than a half century. Surprisingly, though, Khalil’s is one of the only patently negative statements in Shape’s 105-minute runtime.
Billed as a “forward-looking” exploration of the issues, the film canvases both sides of the dispute for answers, proffering interviews with community leaders, refugees, ex-military personnel, journalists, rabbis, and government officials — concerned individuals who preach, lament, commiserate, rage and, with astounding frequency, agree.
“The big obstacle in getting to peace is that no one believes it’s possible,” says Marks, who wrote, conceived, and produced the film. “We’re trying to show people that it is possible.”
The film, which exists in Hebrew and Arabic versions as well, was simulcast as a four-part series in July over Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab satellite television, a first for any television series.
The Shape of the Future
Dir. Lynn Allen Sheid
Shape of the Future is organized clearly, by topic; in this sense, it plays more or less like the cinematic equivalent of a PowerPoint discussion on the various aspects of the rivalry. Of two DVDs, the first concerns itself with Israeli security checks and the question of Jerusalem, while the second deals with refugees and contested settlements. Briefly: (1) Jerusalem houses the most sacred sites on Earth for both the Jewish and Muslim faiths; both Israelis and Palestinians want the city as their capital. (2) Israel has hundreds of anti-terrorism checkpoints set up across Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; Palestinians see these as oppressive Israeli occupation. (3) Millions of Palestinian refugees claim their “right of return” to what is now Israel, a daunting prospect for Israeli infrastructure. (4) In 1967, Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza; hundreds of disputed settlements have since sprung up on occupied lands.
These unresolved issues, along with increased fighting (and last month’s portentous election win by militant anti-Israel Palestinian group Hamas), have led to at-large skepticism concerning the possibility of peace. Marks and director Lynn Allen Sheid, however, have gathered such a multitude of level-headed, seemingly influential Palestinian and Israeli advocates of peaceful compromise and cooperation (a dual capital, limited “right of return,” etc.) that one is forced to ask, “Why hasn’t this happened yet?”
Technically, Shape isn’t terribly flashy. It drags at times, the score seems out of place once or twice, and its structure occasionally borders on monotony. The editing is aimed at pairing similar statements to highlight compatibility, which is effective, but repetitive at least once. The end is abrupt. Regardless, the draw here is what’s being said and the spirit of hope it manages to foster and in this aspiration Shape is a success.
“Everybody says they can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but they can’t find the tunnel,” Marks says. “We can’t find the tunnel either, but we thought we’d make a series about the light.” •
The Shape of the Future, produced by Common Ground Productions and distributed by Cinema Libre studios, is available on DVD February 21.