Videomappings: Aida, Palestine is a revelation in the already crowded field of documentary portraits of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Directed by Till Roeskens, a German-born filmmaker based in France, this intriguing project focuses on the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank. It premiered in 2009 at FID Marseilles, where it won the Grand Prix of the French Competition. That was not long after the end of Operation Cast Lead, the three-week war that began at the end of 2008 and included an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip. Now Roekens’s film sits once again in the context of an invasion of the smaller of the Occupied Territories, featured by Doc Alliance in its free streaming event On the Border of Documentary, on the Border of the Gaza Strip.
The strength of Videomappings is the way in which it captures the exact opposite of what happened in Gaza in both of these two brief, terrible conflicts. The community at the refugee camp at Aida, along the Israeli border in the West Bank, has been affected profoundly but gradually by the occupation. Aida is the victim of a politics of construction rather than destruction, of walls and enclosures and checkpoints. Rather than chase around each individual addition to the landscape of the West Bank, however, Roeskens pursues a much more simple aesthetic.
The film is divided into six chapters, each built from interviews with local residents. Yet no one is actually shown. Rather, Roeskens asks his subjects to draw maps of their neighborhood and narrate its recent history. The people, ranging from small children to elders who have seen many of these changes come to pass, draw houses and roads, border crossings and the growing number of Israeli settlements on the edges of town. The camera is placed on the other side of the page, capturing the image in a way that resembles animation. There is no hand, only line. This isolates the way that the mind sees space, highlighting its internal subjective relationship with its surroundings.
A number of locations come up again and again. There’s Rachel’s Tomb, an important Jewish pilgrimage site that sits just down the road from Aida. As the Israelis constructed the border wall, they made sure to keep this monument accessible to visitors. The result is a winding, confusing enclosure that cuts dramatically into what was once the land of individual Palestinians and multiplies traveling time for local residents. One of the most significant themes of the film is this loss of property, the shift in land ownership that happens when walls are erected and borders redrawn. One man built a farm for his family only to have it walled in and destroyed by the Israeli military. He draws this in no uncertain terms, first displaying his acres of work and then adding the newly raised fences with the settlements hovering just beyond.
On a basic level, the act of featuring the stories of an occupied community through the voices of its residents is always powerful. This emerges in many films about the Occupation. Roeskens’s work stands apart due to the intricacies of perception evoked by the mapping. For as long as there has been conflict over the ownership of land, the depictions of that land have been politically charged. The victors get to make the maps, draw the lines and change the names. Here these maps are remade by those who lost. It is a reclamation, however fleeting. The resulting film is both a powerful political tool and a fascinating approach to documentary representation of this fraught corner of the world.
Watch it below while available.
Videomappings is free through September 21, 2014. Other docs in the program include Sean McAllister’s Settlers and Eyal Sivan’s Aqabat Jaber, Peace with No Return? and Common State, Potential Conversation. Those are available in the U.S., but a fifth film, Christian Frei’s Oscar-nominated War Photographer is not.