x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Budrus, the West Bank film that succeeds by not pleasing anyone fully

As the wrangling continues over stalled Middle East peace talks, a documentary about non-violent resistance made by a New York-based director may have the best take on the situation.

The director Julia Bacha has received numerous awards for her documentary work, including second prize in the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin festival for <i>Budrus</i>.
The director Julia Bacha has received numerous awards for her documentary work, including second prize in the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin festival for Budrus.

NEW YORK // Neither side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is 100 per cent pleased with Julia Bacha's film Budrus, about non-violent resistance in a West Bank village - so the director thinks she must have got it pretty much right.

The documentary follows Ayed Morrar, who helped to unite Israeli peaceniks and his fellow Palestinian villagers of varied political allegiances in peaceful protest against Israeli forces, who were tearing down olive trees to make way for the West Bank separation barrier. The villagers eventually kept most of their land when Israel re-routed the barrier. The film also focuses on an Israeli border policewoman's feelings about being stationed in the village at the time and official Israeli arguments about the barrier's necessity to prevent terrorism.

"We don't please anyone fully and no one has said they loved the film 100 per cent. But it's been proved to be watchable by both sides and to enable them to have a discussion," Bacha said. "No matter how much the conflict is documented, nothing changes so we inverted the logic and documented the people who are trying to make things better to help to empower these people." Budrus will receive its Palestinian premiere on Sunday in the village where it was filmed and which provided its title, after being chosen in December for the Dubai International Film Festival's Cultural Bridges programme, which aims to promote solidarity and break down barriers.

The film will also be shown in Israel as well as other Palestinian towns as part of training workshops on non-violent resistance. "People are tired of seeing how bad the situation is and want hope," Bacha said. The director is 29 and has already received several awards for her documentary work, including second prize in the Panorama Audience Award at the recent Berlin film festival for Budrus. Her previous films include Control Room, about Al Jazeera's television coverage of the Second Gulf War, and Encounter Point, which tells the story of Israelis and Palestinians who lost loved ones to violence and came together in a group called the Bereaved Families Forum.

Bacha, born to a father of Lebanese origin and a Brazilian mother and brought up in Brazil, moved when she was 17 to New York. There she enrolled in the Middle Eastern studies programme at Columbia University. She is learning Arabic and spends long periods of time in the Middle East, although she returns to New York, where she is based, for editing and post-production work. "I discovered that I needed distance to stop seeing the reality and see my characters," she said. "I used to think I needed to stay in the region, that it would be wrong to leave, but I actually need to detach myself."

Budrus was created from about 12 different sources of footage filmed beginning December 2003, including footage shot by demonstrators who wanted evidence of beatings and the firing of tear gas and ammunition by Israeli forces trying to disperse the protesters. The film shows how local politics were put to one side as Hamas officials united with Mr Morrar, the de facto leader of the peaceful protests and member of Fatah. Also documented is the political awakening of Iltezam, Mr Morrar's 15-year-old daughter, who put herself in front of Israeli bulldozers.

The women of Budrus become an active force on the front lines of the protests and they came to know Yasmine Levy, an Israeli border policewoman often in the village, whom they called Yasmina. They shouted out to her, asking how as a woman she could justify taking part in the suppression of the protests and even offered to find a good Palestinian husband for her. In interviews for the film, Ms Levy said she focused on her task to clear the village and that it was not her job to assess or criticise the overall political situation. Although she never says Israel was wrong to act the way it did, she does admit Israeli forces acted with more restraint when Israeli Jews were part of the protests. She has since left the border police.

"It was very important to get the views of the border police because we see beatings and violence, which is not unusual and is the standard reaction of governments worldwide when faced with non-violent resistance," Bacha said. To make Budrus, Bacha worked with Israeli, Palestinian and North American producers who have come together in Just Vision, a non-profit group that reports under-documented joint Israeli and Palestinian civil efforts to resolve the conflict non-violently.

Bacha's next project is a series of short films about people "not necessarily standing in front of bulldozers" but working for peace through other means, including Israeli and Palestinian lawyers and former Israeli generals who have since renounced their former views and openly advocate for a two-state solution. @Email:sdevi@thenational.ae