Later this month, when the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature is awarded, it will go to Searching for Sugar Man–if it goes to the best documentary feature. The film is the wonderful and moving story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/songwriter from the streets of Detroit, who became the voice of a generation in South Africa in the 1970s, and then vanished without a trace. The film is a unique accomplishment–a documentary that is simultaneously a mystery, a morality tale, a little-known story about music, fame, and the movement against apartheid.
More likely, however, the Oscar will go to The Gatekeepers–pushed by publicity materials (and assisted by credulous reviewers) that treat the film as “first time ever” interviews of ex-heads of Israel’s Shin Bet secret service. The message of the movie, ladled out heavily at the end, is that Israel must change course and make more concessions to the Palestinians. But this is not the first time ex-Shin Bet chiefs have been interviewed, nor pushed such a message. The first interview was in 2003; it was widely publicized at the time, in both the Israeli and American media; and it was the cause of the Gaza disengagement that created Hamastan (the full story is here). Nowhere in The Gatekeepers is any of this acknowledged, much less analyzed.
The Gatekeepers is a one-sided view in which director Dror Moreh spliced excerpts from about 75 hours of his filmed interviews into a 97-minute movie, which ends up pushing the same message as the 2003 interview–as if the message had not already been delivered once before (by the same people), had not already been acted upon, and had not already been given a real-life test–which resulted not in peace but multiple new rocket wars.
Either this did not come up during the other 73.5 hours of interviews, or it was left out of the film as an “inconvenient truth” (in the words of an award-winning documentary-maker). Either way, and for more reasons than one, The Gatekeepers is not the best documentary feature of the year.