Telluride Film Festival: Which Way For The Middle East?

IMG_7876 Telluride Inside… and Out witnessed two outstanding films to open the 2010 Telluride Film Festival: first, "Carlos," Olivier Assaya's 5 1/2 hour epic, the first film pick by Festival directors Gary Meyer, Tom Luddy and Julie Huntsinger. And then this morning, "Precious Life,"  written and directed by Shlomi Eldar.

"Carlos," tells the story of the notorious terrorist, Carlos the Jackal, from his early efforts in the cause of anti-imperialism in the Middle East (and beyond), to the preening caricature, looking for any country that will accept him.

"Precious Life" takes a different approach. Raida Abu-Mustafa, has come to an Israeli hospital from Gaza in the hope that her baby son may be saved from the immune system failure that claimed two of her daughters. Her efforts are complicated, not only by the physical barriers separating Gaza from Israel, but by the pressures of Israeli and Gazan attitudes, and of course the Israeli retaliation for rocket attacks out of Gaza.

IMG_7904 Saturday morning's  New York Times has a Page 7 story headlined: "Israeli and Palestinian Commentators Respond With Gloom to Start of Peace Talks." Too many false hopes, too many broken promises, the list goes on.

The story line in "Carlos" has some clues as to why. Carlos considers himself a soldier in a just cause, but we see that he is merely a valuable pawn to those whose interests are best served by thwarting any who would advance the cause of peace.

Raida encounters Raz Somech, an Israeli doctor who will go to any length to save her baby, and Shlomi Eldar, a former war correspondent, who uses his camera and his connections in the media to find the anonymous donor who puts up the large sum of money needed fund the operation.

In the Q & A session which followed "Precious Life" Shlomi Eldar was asked if he had hope. He answered that the change will not come from the government. Change has to come from the bottom up, sooner or later. (In his "Blessed Unrest" entrepreneur/philosopher/author Paul Hawken provides supporting evidence.)

"Precious Life" does not minimize the problems, in fact it emphasizes them by moving seamlessly from prosperous Israeli city to bombed out Palestinian dirt streets, from a modern Israeli hospital to rockets flying out of Gaza and Israeli bombs.

By all means, see both of these movies.  "Precious Life" is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. Eldar includes the infamous (and much reported out of context) exchange with Raida in which she says that martyrdom for young Muhammad would be acceptable. He also allows the story to tell itself, and we learn there are extenuating circumstances.

This morning's screening concluded with a live Skype call, shown on the big screen with Raida and her family. TFF's Jim Bedford credits Billy Alahouzos (St. Augustine, FL), Jake Tompkins (Devin, PA) and Telluride's Dean Rolley for putting together the Skype call. Thanks, guys, that really put the experience over the top.

At the end of the day, the question posed by the juxtaposition of the two films is simple: Which will it be world? Hatred, or human compassion?

Hope has a name. It is Raida.

For ongoing coverage of 2010 Telluride Film Festival see Catalog of 2010 Stories. Reviews of previous Telluride Film Festivals at Film Fest.

(Clint Viebrock contributed to this story. Photo of Olivier Assaya and Edgar Ramirez, and the Skype call by Clint Viebrock)

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