Dir. Eyal Sivan (2009, France/Belgium/Germany/Israel, 86 mins.)
Sometimes, the most innocuous things inspire political animosity; for example, negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots once broke down over a disagreement over whether coffee was Greek or Turkish. As it happens, the Jaffa orange is one of those things. A straightforward documentary is not in the cars here. As it turns out, the history of Israeli and Palestinian conflict can be told through the Jaffa orange, using the orange as a symbol of cooperation, of conflicting nationalisms, and of opportunity squandered.
This documentary can best be described as an academic discussion about the history of the Jaffa orange’s image. Nations are inclined to define themselves symbolically – witness American politicians who put apple pie in their campaign ads – but both Israelis and Palestinians use the Jaffa orange as a symbol. Clearly, the subject – nationalist imagery – is a bit arcane for most tastes. However, those inclined to the subject will find Eyal Sivan’s documentary illuminating and challenging.
The best element of this documentary is the use of archival material – newsreels, folk songs, posters, and propaganda. Usually, archival material is used in documentaries as filler material. In Jaffa, archival material takes centre stage. Given that the nightly news is bombarded with images and stories from the Holy Land, it is fascinating to see how the world viewed and thought of Israelis and Palestinians sixty years ago.
Clearly, Jaffa does not end on a pleasant note; Palestinian films rarely do. However, I found the journey thought provoking. It may be a bit dry and academic for some, but Jaffa is required viewing for anyone with serious interest in the region.