Film-Forward Review: UNSETTLED


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Soldiers removing a settler
Photo: Adam Hootnick

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Edited, Written, Produced & Directed by Adam Hootnick
Director of Photography, Hootnick & Mickey Elkeles
Music by Jon Lee
English & Hebrew with English subtitles
USA. 80 min. Not Rated
Released by Resonance Pictures

Thomas Friedman’s book From Beirut to Jerusalem presciently raised the question 20 years ago whether Israel could continue as both a Jewish state and a civil democracy of majority rule. Unsettled vividly illustrates how the tense summer of 2005 brought that choice to the breaking point as the Israeli government and the country prepared for the pullout from Gaza, reversing a policy from the 1967 war that had encouraged 8,500 Jews to live there, separate and protected from 1.3 million Palestinians.

In his first feature documentary, Adam Hootnick effectively uses similar approaches from his experience as an MTV News producer covering elections and the war in Iraq. He personalizes and contemporizes long-standing difficult issues by focusing on six diverse, attractive, articulate men and women in their twenties who are passionate about their lifestyles and political opinions.

Lior is a tanned, shaggy-haired, guitar-strumming surfer dude, but the beautiful waves of his “Palm Beach” break onto the Gaza Strip. His co-lifeguard and surfer is devout Meir, who considers Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories a divine right. Neta, a budding filmmaker, documents her ultra-Orthodox settler community’s struggle to stay and the fervid protests against withdrawal.

As part of her routine mandatory army service, Tamar trains on how to deal with the expected protesters, eerily similar to the National Guard exercises Haskell Wexler captured in Medium Cool prior to the 1968 Democratic convention. A strapping career soldier, Yuval has his hands full calming his mother’s distress that her only son could be put in danger by a small group that she feels has treated the Israel Defense Forces as a private security force. And Ye’ela channels her grief over the death of her sister from Palestinian terrorists by participating in a traveling demonstration in favor of the withdrawal.

Interspersed with television news coverage of the preparations for the military to dismantle the settlements and remove the settlers by the deadline, the young people wrenchingly present their cases, and several endure vociferous criticism from bystanders about Jews vs. Jews. Their feelings take on visual symbolism, as the settlers distribute orange armbands and banners and the government supporters wrap themselves in patriotic blue and white. The soldiers stolidly wear green, speaking calmly but struggling to stay neutral, looking like the National Guard troops sent in to integrate the University of Mississippi

The film’s emotional climax, with all sides still trying to continue dialogue while shedding tears, is a moving lesson for every country about the rule of law and the use of the military to implement government policies. But Unsettled ends up spending a lot of time following the weeping leave-taking of individuals who seem to be on the wrong end of history as they bemoan the loss of a way of life.

The film never presents the viewpoint of the Palestinians, and does not refer to the violence between the PLO and Hamas that erupted in Gaza after the withdrawal, or the continuing tensions with Israel there. The closest to glimpsing external opinion of the pullout is a Fox News reporter who has to keep re-taping his report as jostling protesters overtake him. But even as the media’s memory of these summer events has been superseded, Hootnick ominously reports how each of these bright young people carried on afterwards – from restive unemployment or moving to the West Bank to make a last stand. Nora Lee Mandel
May 8, 2008



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