A review of notes to eternity in University of Otago's Critic Magazine [Critic Issue 13, 2016] - during the recent limited theatrical release in New Zealand - gave the film an ‘A’ rating and while it's gratifying to get critical affirmation, the reviewer made this statement which demands response:
“… It [the film] tackles all of the difficult issues headfirst, with the thesis that the Holocaust is now being repeated against Palestinian civilians …”
The film in fact does not present nor set out to present such a thesis: a literal equivalence between the Nazi Holocaust and the treatment of the Palestinians. Nor is this something the four characters in the film articulate.
Undoubtedly, visual parallels can be drawn from the containment mechanisms used by the Israeli occupation: the Wall, the electrified fences, the ubiquitous watch towers, checkpoints and barriers, and the corralling of the Palestinian population into designated areas, regulated by forms of identification, subject to random arrest and incarceration. There are also parallels to be found in what José Saramago once called “the spirit of the occupation”, manifest in the institutionalized dehumanization of a people.
These are things Sara Roy, a child of Holocaust survivors, once spoke about as she walked along part of the wall Israel has constructed in the West Bank [this scene is not in the final cut]:
“I can’t begin to tell you how painful and upsetting this is to me. These walls, the barbed wire… What would my mother say if she saw this, yet again? I mean the Holocaust imagery is very powerful, at least for me, the watchtowers and the barbed wire and the sense of containment and violence… I can’t help but wonder is this why my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and all the many people in my family and so many millions of Jews were murdered. Absolutely not. In fact their deaths are often used to justify and legitimise Israeli occupation and the oppression of Palestinians and that is something I have fought my entire academic life against and many Jews, an increasing number of Jews also because they recognize that it is not only an obscenity, it is so damaging to us as a people.”
“ … the Holocaust imagery in the West Bank is extraordinary, and for me as a child of survivors I look at it and that is what immediately comes to mind. You know, the parallels exist, the parallels exist in the sense that the dehumanisation, the denigration of the ‘Other’ is I think very, very similar…. Of course there are great distinctions in terms of scale, in terms of intent. I mean many people would disagree with me and say that the Israelis are bent on the genocide of the Palestinians. I don’t believe that.”
There is no doubt the Holocaust is an historical and cultural cairn that towers over this conflict. It looms large in the collective and individual psyche. notes to eternity references some of this influence, directly and indirectly, through the stories and reflections of the film’s characters. These threads are too numerous and complex to go into here, and they by no means constitute the sole focus of the film.
It is nevertheless worthwhile to contemplate the question Sara Roy relates near the start of the film, and which she has heard time and again, referencing the treatment of the Palestinians: “How can the children of the Holocaust do such things?” It's a framework for discussion that doesn’t require or imply literal equivalence.
Posted 18th Oct in Blog
Review of notes to eternity in stuff.co.nz (The Dominion Post, The Press) by Graeme Tuckett. Four stars **** "Very recommended"
Posted 23rd May in Blog
Posted 10th Mar in Blog
Chomsky surveys the Doomsday Clock
Posted 27th Jan in Blog
Here's the new poster
Designed by Tim Wong, and using Ant Sang's now-iconic illustration for notes to eternity of Noam Chomsky sitting on top of the Wall.The background image is an empty billboard frame south of Gaza City - it's used on the homepage of this website
Posted 3rd Dec in Blog
This blog is a place for updates as they come to hand, and also a space for various notes and ideas related to notes to eternity. Please feel free to contact me if you want to respond to any of the posts. Just go to the 'Contact' page and send me a message/email. Also, please join our mailing list.
Thanks for visiting.
Early in the film, Jewish American scholar, writer and activist Norman Finkelstein recalls his first visits to the occupied territories in the late 1980s - during the First Intifada - as a time when "there was this real welcoming of foreigners but with the expectation that we were going to go back and tell the truth about the Israeli occupation". "Back then", he went on to say, "Palestinians had a deep perhaps to some extent naïve belief that if the world saw what was happening here, that they would win their case in the court of public opinion and the occupation would end".
This idea that a sufficiently informed public can be mobilised in the direction of justice and human rights - that knowledge provides the catalyst for effective change - is a core belief that motivates most activism.
The four figures in notes to eternity - Noam Chomsky, Sara Roy, Norman Finkelstein and Robert Fisk - have been documenting and analysing this conflict and related issues for decades; disseminating information tirelessly. They are part of a now substantial slipstream of scholars, journalists and commentators working to ensure that people can know what is happening.
But Chomsky, Roy, Finkelstein and Fisk have been doing it longer than most. All have received hefty criticism, threats and smears for their efforts. All have remained undeterred. Gesturing towards the Wall in the West Bank on a shoot for the film, Jewish American academic and author Sara Roy summed up a prevailing sentiment: "Not on my watch."
When I began this project, much of my research involved looking into representations of the Israel-Palestine conflict, not least in the mainstream media. I was intrigued also to look at their residue in public perceptions of the issue, many of which are sustained despite this substantial body of work signposting a different take on the conflict's history, its ongoing mechanisms and effects.
My own observations from spending significant time in the region also pointed to a critical disconnect between how the conflict is commonly reported in the media and what was happening on the ground. It was hard to ignore.
And while I was not interested in making a discursive film specifically focussed on the nature of these representations - an obvious trajectory for a 'documentary' film on this subject - this research provides the largely submerged bedrock of the film, and the basis for part of the film's point of departure in stylistic terms.
I chose to focus on Chomsky, Roy, Finkelstein and Fisk for multiple reasons. Not only do they all bring to the table a rich vein of background scholarship and commentary as chroniclers of the Israel-Palestine issue - one that offers a strong counter-narrative to much mainstream discourse on the subject - but their own lives offered a way for the film to tap into various defining historical events and cultural lines that have had an impact on the Israel-Palestine issue.
They are all remarkable people.
notes to eternity weaves in and around their lives and ideas, taking 'notes'. It is not a comprehensive presentation of either the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict nor their biographies. It's a series of 'fragments', inviting people to follow the multiple threads, and explore the lacunae and metaphors that the medium of film - as with other art forms - naturally evokes.
Posted 28th Oct in Blog