The Gatekeepers is a brilliant, amazing, fascinating, depressing, profound and terrifying film. It could not be more different from 5 Broken Cameras, the other Israeli nominee for Best Documentary at this year's Academy Awards (see review below), and yet the underlying message is the same, namely that the only way to peace in Israel/Palestine (and, indeed, in the Middle East) is the creation of a Palestinian state.
While 5 Broken Cameras gave us a very grassroots look at Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation during the last few years, The Gatekeepers looks from the top down, focused on interviews with six former heads of Shin Bet. Shin Bet is the big Israeli internal security organization, in charge of protecting Israeli citizens from terrorists, whether those terrorists are Palestinians or Jewish extremists.
Instead of defending the reputation of Shin Bet over the years, the six leaders question the effectiveness of its policies. While some of the leaders defend their decisions to order the murder of terrorists or their involvement in collateral damage (deaths of innocent civilians), they all suggest that Shin Bet has been helping to lead Israel down a path toward, as one of the interviewees said, ‘a very dark future’. With the exception of Yitzhak Rabin (who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist), Israeli prime ministers have, according to these Shin Bet leaders, handled the Palestinian situation very poorly, basically putting the country in ever-greater danger rather than negotiating with the Palestinians to create a Palestinian state.
The Gatekeepers is an awesome technical achievement by director/cinematographer Dror Moreh. He uses some form of special effects (CGI?) to turn old photos into something like moving images and invents countless unique ways of conveying information. The six interviews which form the heart of the documentary are filmed in a style that feels cold, with grey and blue predominating, but the stark lighting and colours create a feeling of suspense and gravity that make this a riveting film.
The Gatekeepers is worthy of its overwhelming critical acclaim (the critics got one right!) and gets an easy ****. My mug is up for this must-see.