TJFF: Between Two Worlds

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Between Two Worlds

Directed by Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow

2011, USA, 70 mins.

This is a film about having independent opinions in the face of forces diametrically opposed. In 2009, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival screened a controversial film called Rachel, a documentary about an American activist named Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003. The choice to screen the film provoked backlash from pro-Israel groups. In light of the controversy, SFJFF invited a speaker from one of the groups opposed to the film to the screening, in order to make a statement. Pro-Palestinian activists shouted him down. The entire debacle was deeply offensive to directors Deborah Kaufman and Alan Snitow, who are committed to the idea of free speech and reject the notion that a person’s opinion on Israel should affect that person’s standing as a Jew. It also sparked a journey into the heart of the contradictory nature of Jewish American life today.

This densely packed film is a personal journey as much as it is an exploration of the political conflict that is coming to colour Jewish (and by extension, Israeli) discussion. The filmmakers begin by discussing the controversy at SFJFF and meeting with many of the people involved, be they pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, or stuck in the middle of uncompromising sides. This becomes a theme, and as the directors move on to other debates shaking Jewish political life – such as the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s plan to build a Museum of Tolerance atop a 900-year-old Palestinian cemetery in Jerusalem, or the movement in college campuses across the US to divest from Israel – they make a special attempt to portray the opinions of Jews who have taken a moderate position.

The filmmakers also explore their own family history in an attempt to contextualize modern political debate against the deeply fraught past political debates respecting Judaism. This becomes an important to them because they feel that their status as Jews is being unfairly questioned by those who disagree with their political opinions.

Between Two Worlds is at once a film about freedom of speech and about the ethical questions facing Jews today. Appeal is not limited to Jewish audiences, however. The fact of the matter is that the tendency to totalize issues is a global one. The politics Israel and Palestine have practitioners worldwide, and frequently the two sides tolerate no dissent or compromise. This is a film attempting to reclaim a place at the centre – and I suspect that anyone still reading can respect that attempt. The value of the film will be in the conversations it sparks, and if those conversations can be had without acrimony, then the film can be judged a success.

– Dave Robson

Toronto Jewish Film Festival is playing from May 7th through May 15th. Tickets may be purchased online, by phone, or in person. More information is available on their website.