Hoping Israel’s Oscar-Nominated Film Loses


I’m not rooting for “The Gatekeepers” to win the Academy Award Sunday night for Best Documentary.

The compelling film, by Israeli director Dror Moreh, is based on separate interviews with six former directors of the Shin Bet who criticize Israeli policy, or lack of one, on the Palestinian front. The men are of different ages and personalities, but they agree that successive Israeli political leaders approached the issue tactically rather than strategically, and the viewer is left with the impression that it was Israel’s fault that peace has not been achieved. What’s more, all six seem quite pessimistic about the future.

Moreh has acknowledged in interviews that his politics are dovish, and one can make the case that he skews his film to the left, based on what he includes and what he chooses to leave out, like the ongoing hostility and violence from the Palestinian side and their rejection of all Israeli proposals.

Oscar experts say “The Gatekeepers” is a long shot to win, in part because one of the other five nominated documentaries, “5 Broken Cameras,” is quite similar in theme and point of view, and the two might cancel each other out.

That film, directed by Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and Guy Davidi, an Israeli, has a Palestinian perspective, focusing on how Palestinians use cameras to photograph alleged abuses by the Israeli army in the occupied territories.

I haven’t seen “5 Broken Cameras,” but I did see “The Gatekeepers,” and while those on the left will say that it makes them proud to see how open and introspective the former Shin Bet directors are, and how proud we can be of a vibrantly democratic Israeli society, those on the right will cringe to see Israel beat up again, on a global platform.

I think of “The Gatekeepers” as a full-length trigger film, an opening for subsequent conversation and debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially effective in Israel, where the issues are well known. But I worry about the film’s impact on American audiences who know little of the history and context of the issues seen and discussed on screen.

In any event, I’m rooting for “Searching For Sugar Man” to win for Best Documentary, a remarkable piece of research and film making about an obscure musician from Detroit in the 1960s who became a cult-like popular hero in South Africa. And the less you know of the story going into the theater the more you’ll enjoy the twists and turns when you leave.

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at garyrosenblatt.substack.com.