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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

ADFF 2014 review: The Wanted 18

An animated scene from the documentary The Wanted 18. Courtesy National Film Board of Canada
An animated scene from the documentary The Wanted 18. Courtesy National Film Board of Canada

The Wanted 18 of the title aren’t a group of terrorists on the run – but a collection of farmyard cows.

This insightful documentary deals takes on the heavy subject of the First Palestinian Intifada, but injects a healthy dose of lightness (and impartiality) by telling large chunks of the story from the point of view of a herd of cows. But wait – it works.

The affluent and largely Christian Palestinian town Beit Sahour is renowned as a hotbed of political activism. As well as boycotting taxes and demonstrating against their occupiers, during the Intifada of 1987 to 1991 the small town also organised a healthy neighboured resistance.

Part of that effort was to buy cows – a first for the area – so the town could provide milk of its own, and boycott the state-owned dairy monopoly. Quickly the cows become symbolic of the community’s impassioned but pragmatic resistance.

And then when the occupying forces order the removal of cows, declaring them a “threat to security”, the story verges into tragicomedy.

It’s a remarkable tale already, but here it is remarkably told.

First time director Amer Shomali uses a clever mix of talking heads and archive footage alongside re-enactments – with key players asked to pick their own younger double-selves – cartoons by Shomali himself and, best of all, stop-motion animations of the cows talking amongst themselves; funny, but sometimes insightful, too.

It’s this balance which somehow injects its subject with humour, but never once degrades its gravity – perhaps because the director, who grew up in a Syrian refugee camp, returned to his family home in the town at the age of 16.

“It was always going to be from the cows’ perspective,” the director explains.

“I don’t like watching documentaries, so I tried to make a film that people who don’t like documentaries would like.”

It appears to have worked. After premiering at Toronto to positive reviews, the Abu Dhabi screening marked the first time the film was scened outside of it’s country of production. Predictably it sparked a fiery debate at the post-screening Q&A

“Coming first from Canada, and now Abu Dhabi, I’m getting closer to the source [of the story],” added Shomali, adding that the plan was to screen the movie in Palestine itself next.

The Wanted 18 screens again at Vox Marina Mall on Sunday October 26 at 4.30pm

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Updated: October 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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