Provocative and revealing 'Gatekeepers' argues futility of an eye for an eye

Posted by · 10:54 pm · September 1st, 2012

TELLURIDE – Fewer movies are going to be as important and provocative at this year’s Telluride Film Festival than Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers.” The documentary filmmaker was granted an extraordinary amount of access to six former heads of Shin Bet, the ultra-secretive Israeli intelligence agency, and turned out a striking, candid assessment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from those with the very power to dictate what can and cannot be divulged.

Along the way there are plenty of defensive exchanges regarding the organization’s handling of terrorism and notions of morality in a situation seemingly lacking any sense of it, but ultimately there is a sense of weariness from the former agency chiefs and a desire to negotiate peace with their enemies. “We can sit down and I can see that you don’t eat glass and you can see that I don’t drink petrol,” one of them — who even goes so far as to compare the “cruel” Israeli occupation to Nazi Germany — puts it.

Most intriguing, though, is the sense from these men that much of their work has been for naught. The equivalent would be to get a number of former CIA heads to admit on camera that the Cold War was a waste of time. It’s pretty staggering stuff.

The film gives a thorough retelling of the tensions that have boiled over time and again since the Six-Day War of 1967, which led to the Israeli occupation of territories in Israel and the Gaza Strip. It serves as a history lesson from those who lived it, and provides an invaluable perspective on evolving methods of anti-terrorism while treading the philosophical waters of playing God and having the power to extinguish another life with the push of a button.

At this evening’s annual Sony Pictures Classics dinner at La Marmotte, I found myself sitting next to Moreh and, with his film on my mind, had plenty to ask. He told me that, of course, the access was difficult and a glacial process, getting one former head to finally commit, then slowly reining in more. And even he was surprised at what he was able to capture.

“It was stunning,” he said. “And I have met many Jews here at this festival who have come up to me and said, ‘Thank you.’ Many feel they can’t speak up on this. They’re afraid.”

Indeed, it’s such a liberal point of view that I don’t think the film will face much opposition from the documentary feature branch. A journalist colleague wondered to me earlier in the fest whether the film’s somewhat anti-Israel sheen could hurt it with a well-represented Jewish community within the Academy, but if there are more like those Moreh is meeting here in Telluride, perhaps that’s not the case at all. Perhaps “The Gatekeepers” will be less a thorn than a breath of fresh air.

“The Gatekeepers” will move on to the Toronto and New York film festivals from here. Sony Pictures Classics will release it domestically next year. Put it on your Best Documentary Feature shortlist. It’s going to be a widely-discussed title.

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