June 12, 2005
Still Life, 2004
Shot in the occupied territories (in particular, East Jerusalem and the southern Gaza strip), and composed of a series of landscape shots of unidentifiable rubble and twisted rebar from razed Palestinian homes, bulldozed agricultural fields, and separation walls against a repetitive, dispassionate speaker articulating a series of open-ended questions on the meaning of the images (Who's responsible? Would you live here? Who's paying for this?...), Still Life is compact, incendiary, and effective exposition on the cycle of tragedy, violence, and disenfranchisement caused by the occupation. Inasmuch as the filmmaker's near monotonic delivery of provocative questions had the overall effect of creating auditory abstraction from the power of the disturbing visuals (an overlaid sequence of typed questions set against the cacophany of tearing, friction, and rupture would have better served to concentrate the viewer's focus on the images), I greatly admired Cynthia Mandansky's patience, strength, and courage of conviction in addressing all the (sometimes loaded) questions raised during the Q&A despite some overt hostility (and soapbox grandstanding) from a few members of the audience who strongly disagreed with her point of view (mostly in a similar finger-pointing vein of laying blame and demands to show "both sides" of the story that has been lobbed at other filmmakers confronting this issue from a counterpoint perspective). Articulating a similar comment that I had attempted to convey in an article on Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land to demystify the notion that a documentary should present a balanced and impartial account of its subject (particularly in situations were readily accessible media coverage of the issues has revealed a systematic pattern of journalistic bias and dispoportionality), Madansky makes a compelling argument for the role of the filmmaker to provoke and challenge coventional wisdom, status quo, social perception, and accepted reality.