Apples of the Golan (Austria, Ireland, Syria, Israel 2012)

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This is a documentary filmed in the occupied Golan Heights between September 2007 and July 2012. It was filmed, directed and edited by Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth, with Keith on camera and Jill on sound. The film is centred in the village of Majdal Shams, which is a Druze village which before 1967 was part of Syria. Israel invaded the territory and has occupied it ever since. The Druze are found across the area in Palestine and in what is now Lebanon. In 1982, in defiance of International law Israel annexed the territory. Most of the residents have refused Israeli citizenship and their ID cards bear the code, ‘undefined’. The film shows us the place and the inhabitants. One of its strengths is the variety of voices it offers. We see and hear men, women, old and young, committed nationalists and members more divided over their situation. We also see ex-prisoners from the resistance to occupation. We do see one member of a Zionist settlement – revealingly an Argentinean immigrant. The film suggests a generation gap on the issue of Syria as a ‘homeland’. But at the same time there seems to be a fairly solid consensus of opposition to Israeli occupation.

The film is both thoughtful and complex. The editing in particular cuts between different viewpoints and different times in the filming. This suggests some of the ambiguities that the filmmaker identified. It is also a film that uses a rich mise en scène and sound design to add comment. Thus at two points we hear a local piece of hip-hop. A recurring shot of mist floating over the town and the heights is also extremely suggestive. The apples are the most compelling symbol, one for the Druze that is also economic. One local refers to the ‘roots’ of the apples trees and of the local inhabitants.

After the screening co-director Keith Walsh talked about the filming and answered questions from the audience. Jill and Keith first heard of the situation in 2006 from a colleague in Galway. After raising funds they commenced their project in 2007. Over the five years they visited the area eight or nine times. At first they got the feel of the place, talked to ‘official’ voices and developed a sense of confidence with the community. Interestingly, apart from two occasions shown in the film, they had few problems with the Israeli authorities or the military. Surprisingly the Golan Heights are popular tourist attraction in the area.

They recorded some two hundred hours and film and sound. Keith explained that the editing emerged out of the footage. When he or Jill had different proposals they ‘parked’ the issue. Usually when they returned later the best course was clear. He also noted that the style changed to a degree over the filming period. There are signs of this but the film uses a complex time order which is very effective in suggesting ambiguities but also in developing the impact of the experiences of the village.

The film was launched in Dublin in late 2012. Keith commented that interest took a sudden increase when the USA was considering ‘bombing Syria’. Since then it has won the Jury Prise at the Baghdad Film Festivals.

The people suffering under the Israeli occupation have enjoyed some excellent film attention in recent years. This documentary is another strong account of a particular people who usually enjoy limited attention. Its one weakness would be that the underlying historical and political relations are rather taken for granted. And pragmatically I had to look up the village on the Internet to get a clear sense of the topography [see the map, top middle square], which is important in the film.  But the film brings a complexity to its treatment of the situation which is rare in documentaries.

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