I expected to see the illegal Israeli Occupation emblazoned in the Oscars’ annual spectacle Sunday night, but the announcement of the Academy Award for best documentary fizzled. Why? Award-giver Ben Affleck’s list had a structural deception: it squeezed together all the plot summaries, without identifying the separate films, then named each with images of Palestine, Israel, and the U.S. that–out of context–conveyed nothing.
Affleck opened by stating an ideal:
A documentary filmmaker uses the camera to show real life and real people in a way that is insightful, often astonishing, but–above all–truthful.
But that truism isn’t true of the words Affleck mouthed next in listing the subjects of the nominated films, here, 5 Broken Cameras, “This year’s films illuminated the tension and resentment of those living in the West Bank….”
Affleck, who would later win the biggest prize, “Best Picture,” for an adventure flick fantasizing about a stereotypical battle of wits between supposed American derring-do against lesser Iranians, went right by the creative bravery that’s real in 5 Broken Cameras: Bil’in’s endlessly inventive Resistance. He distorted a struggle in Occupied Palestine, involving the actual land-owners’ peaceful interference with theft and murder, as peevishness by transients with no claim to the land.
Next he described the Israeli film, The Gatekeepers:
“…behind-the-scenes operatives in the same–working in secret in that same land; [Israeli Shin Bet Directors reduced to 'operatives'!]“
–before summarizing the three other films, and moving on to name them individually: “Here are the nominees for Best Documentary Feature: 5 Broken Cameras.” There followed clips of Emad Burnat with his broken cameras; of Israeli soldiers shoving demonstrators; of demonstrators being pushed as they held Palestinian flags; of three Israeli soldiers on an outcropping, with one firing a shot.
And for The Gatekeepers: picture of the Handshake between Arafat and Rabin–with Clinton in between, pledging the 1993 Oslo declaration of principles; a clip of a targeted assassination; footage of pictures on the wall, Yitzak Shamir being closest and biggest.
So, in sum, the Academy had Affleck: 1. Smush together the descriptions of all the films– without naming any. listeners could not follow the meaning–let alone what was left out– through that muddle. All I caught at the time was the derogatory “resentment…in the West Bank.” 2. Omit the words “Israeli Government, illegal Occupation, and military.” 3. Censor the criticism that both 5 Broken Cameras and The Gatekeepers lodge at the Israeli Occupation. 4. Describe both documentaries–with confusing shots from each–in such a way that those “tensions and resentment of those living in the West Bank” seemed the fault of the demonstrators.
After ignoring the real-life heroism of Palestinians and Israelis, Affleck’s advice in his own acceptance speech seemed sadly wasted: “it doesn’t matter how you get knocked down in life because that’s going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up.” Ben Affleck’s words are truer than he knows, but about more than movie-making.