Documentarian Eyal Sivan is a political filmmaker with a keen and passionately critical eye for the workings of power on many levels, whether witnessed directly or discerned through the fashioning of history and ideology through the use of images. Born in Israel in 1964, he began his career as a photographer in Tel Aviv before moving to Paris in 1985 and taking up filmmaking; to date, he has made fifteen films and divides his time between Europe and Israel. Although Sivan’s films critical of Israeli expansionism and treatment of the Palestinians have attracted a great deal of attention and controversy, this is only one facet of his work, albeit a central one. Films such as Akabat Jaber – Passing Through (1987), the portrait of a Palestinian refugee camp, and Itsembatsemba (1996), about the Rwandan genocide, are powerful examples of the observational documentary. Sivan returned to this side of his filmmaking with Route 181, included in our program. But Sivan is also a skillful practitioner in the genre of the essay film constructed from archival footage. We will be showing two excellent examples: The Specialist (1999) and the recent Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork (2009). — David PendletonSpecial thanks: Peter Hanly – Boston College
Directed by Eyal Sivan
France/Israel 1999, 35mm, b/w, 129 min. Hebrew and German with English subtitles
The historical 1961 trial of Nazi official Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem was filmed by by American filmmaker Leo Hurwitz’s television crew. The riveting footage, comprising some 350 hours, has been little seen since its original broadcast in Israel and the US. Sivan has carefully selected and edited two hours of this footage, subtly manipulating images and adding sound to craft an essay film inspired by Hannah Arendt’s groundbreaking book about the trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Sivan’s version points out the difference between the prosecution’s description of Eichmann as a blood-thirsty murderer and the Eichmann in the courtroom, who was something perhaps even more frightening: a seemingly ordinary bureaucrat who spent years carrying out genocide. Print courtesy of Memento Films.
Directed by Eyal Sivan
Israel/France 2009, digital video, color, 89 min. Arabic, English, French and Hebrew with English subtitles
For more than a century, the “Jaffa orange” was one of the leading exports, first from Palestine, then from Israel. An examination of the records of the orange’s production and marketing quickly reveals this history to be one of competing narratives – that of the fruitful Orient, on the one hand, and that of Palestine as a savage desert before the establishing of the state of Israel. Sivan’s examination of these ideological narratives becomes a look back at Jewish and Arab coexistence in Palestine before 1948, cleverly constructed out of the archive of moving and still images dating back to the dawn of photography.
Directed by Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan
France/Belgium/UK Germany 2004, digital video, color, 270 min. Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles
Route 181 is the epic record of a road trip undertaken in the summer of 2002 by two filmmakers, one Palestinian and one Israeli, along sections of what had been designated as the border between Israel and Palestine by U.N. Resolution 181 in 1947. This border never actually existed since Israel’s victory in the warfare following the end of British control greatly expanded the new nation’s territory. The path taken by the filmmakers, now a virtual and historical one, with no official designation, reveals at times a no-man’s land, at others a space tense with occupying forces and their resisters. Tracing this route reveals the ways Israel has expanded since 1948 as well as the deepening and widening divide between the Arabs and the Jews who live in the contested territory. Above all, the film suggests, it is Israel’s expansion that sustains and widens this rift.