Dir. Julia Bacha (2009, Palestine/Israel/USA, 70 mins.)
Budrus is more than a documentary – it is a town in the West Bank that became a rally point for non-violent opposition to Israel’s West Bank barrier. Non-violence resistance – already rare in the world – is unheard of in the Middle East. The story of Budrus – and of opposition organizer Ayed Morrar and his daughter Iltezam – is a riveting story impeccably told. It is visceral, tense, and bold, difficult to watch but impossible to ignore.
The documentary owes much of its success to careful editing that mixes footage of the protests and interviews with the principal characters. The resulting storytelling is very deliberate, and the two threads compliment each other beautifully. The main thread is arranged chronologically, whilst the interviews were filmed after-the-fact. This has a reassuring effect on the audience: while watching armed Israeli soldiers and bulldozers square off against Palestinian protesters, things become so bleak that we need to be reminded that all the main players survive.
More than simply capturing people at a formative event of their lives, Budrus shows people change as a result of the experience and portrays a disagreement in an honest way. If the audience is moved when Israeli activists arrive to show their support for the Palestinians, the audience is floored when Hamas member Ahmed Awwad mentions that these are the first Israelis (aside from soldiers) he has ever met. Sympathy is not one sided, however – IDF Captain Doron Spielman makes a very calm and well-spoken case for the Israeli government and appeals to the safety of Israeli citizens.
The stakes are high at the beginning of Budrus, and they only get higher as the situation comes to a head. It is particularly interesting to see the Israeli army in action – they are initially permitted to use limited force against the Palestinians, but are not allowed to use similar force when Israelis are present. Of course, this all falls apart – the Palestinian’s non-violent ethic wavers, and the IDF breaks out live rounds.
To be sure, Budrus can be difficult to watch. It is not a safe film. It pushes us to a space that we don’t want to be in and demands that we pay attention. However, it does offer a glimmer of hope – something exceedingly rare in a Palestinian film.