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JewishJournal.com

December 14, 2006

Films: Oscar buzz surrounds Israel ‘Disengagement’ documentary

http://www.jewishjournal.com/film/article/films_oscar_buzz_surrounds_israel_disengagement_documentary_20061215

Before evacuating residents of Gush Katif settlement in Gaza Strip,  Israeli police help carry Torah scrolls out of the synagogue

Before evacuating residents of Gush Katif settlement in Gaza Strip, Israeli police help carry Torah scrolls out of the synagogue

"Storm of Emotions," a documentary on the agonizing evacuation of Jewish settlers from their Gaza Strip homes, is the first Israeli production in decades to have a serious shot at Oscar honors. A close-up and personal account of the "disengagement" operation in August 2005, the film has been short-listed among the 15 contenders in the best documentary feature category by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The five finalists will be announced Jan. 23, and the winner at the 79th Academy Awards on Feb. 25.

When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the unilateral evacuation of some 8,000 mainly Orthodox Jews living in 21 Gaza Strip settlements, he handed the Israeli police primary responsibility for conducting the highly controversial and emotional operation in a "sensitive but firm" manner.

With backup from army units, 13,000 uniformed men and women were mobilized for the assignment, and, after a week of sensitivity and crowd control training, were ready for action.

Director Yael Klopmann embedded her camera crew among the police units ordered to clear the settlements in the Gush Katif bloc in the southwestern corner of the Gaza Strip, including Katif, Neve Dekalim, Kfar Darom, Shirat Hayam and Atzmona.

It was veteran cinematographer Klopmann's first feature production as director, and her job wasn't made any easier by being nine months pregnant when the action started.

"Storm of Emotions" ("Seharat Regashot" in Hebrew) is subtitled, "A Story of Brothers in Heart," and Klopmann avoids a simplistic good-vs.-bad guys storyline.

However, it is obvious from the 106-minute documentary that Klopmann greatly admires the restraint and professionalism of the police units, confronted by signs and curses of "You look like Nazis," "You're doing what the terrorists couldn't do" and "God will not grant you absolution." Throughout, the police apparently kept their admirable cool.

On the other hand, there is no way to minimize the anguish of the settlers, as they are evicted from the homes and farmlands they had laboriously wrested from the desert, bodily carried out of their synagogues and their children forced to abandon their lovingly constructed schools and playgrounds.

There are memorable scenes: Policemen and settlers openly weeping together as they join in carrying Torah scrolls out of a synagogue and a farmer filling a bottle of sand as a permanent reminder of his lost land.

On a lighter note, a very professional (and pretty) platoon leader, Sgt. Nofar Cohen, takes a break by surfing in the Mediterranean, looking for a moment like any carefree Malibu chick. Toward the end of the three-day operation, police meet their fiercest resistance at Kfar Darom, where well-prepared settlers mount a last stand on the roof of their synagogue, fortified with barbed wire.

The police finally storm the redoubt with water cannons and scaling ladders, but it is to the credit of both sides that not a single life was lost during the Gush Katif evacuations.

There was a golden era in the last two decades of the 20th century, particularly in the 1990s, when documentaries on Jewish and Holocaust themes all but monopolized the list of Oscar winners, with such titles as "Genocide," "Anne Frank Remembered," "The Last Days" and "Stories of the Kindertransport."

Since then, academy voters have favored more offbeat subjects, such as "March of the Penguins" last year, and "Born Into Brothels" the year before.

To clutch the Oscar statuette on Feb. 25, producers Jim Abrams and Micky Rabinovitz of "Storm of Emotions" will have to beat some formidable competition, including Al Gore's global warming warning, "An Inconvenient Truth," and four hard-hitting films on the Iraq war.

For more information, visit www.stormofemotions.com.

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