Two Israeli productions won at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Whether Israel won… well that is another story.

It is rare enough that a filmmaker has their film accepted by the Sundance Film Festival. It is even more rare for the filmmaker to have his thoughts published as an Op-Ed during the festival in The New York Times. And rarer still to be awarded a Grand Prize. But Israeli film director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz achieved all three.

Alexandrowicz, director of the crowd pleasing James Journey to Jerusalem, and The Inner Tour, returned to Sundance with his documentary, The Law In These Parts. It received the World Cinema Grand Prize in Documentary Film on Saturday evening in Park City, Utah.

The Law In These Parts

The Law In These Parts, said Alexandrowicz, “is not about the people who broke the law, but about those entrusted with the law.” The film, which received the prize for Best Documentary at the 2011 Jerusalem International Film Festival, is a film about what the director sees as a moral quandary in Israel, a country founded on democratic principles, that must administer justice in the occupied territories for Palestinians. Divided into five chapters, the film is filled with candid moments that elicit discomfort as it considers the repercussions of the complex legal frameworks created in the territories following the June 1967 War. The film asks whether administering the law leads to “justice.” Alexandrowicz includes interviews with the men who created the military laws that administer the occupation, including Alexander Ramati, Dov Shefi, and Justices Amnon Strashnov and Meir Shamgar. The film implicates the viewers and all residents of western democracies and asked them how long democratic values can endure when laws are administered to occupy others.

The film began in mid 2004, when the director received a phone call from the family of a boy who had just turned 16 who was in “The Inner Tour,” an earlier documentary in which Palestinians take a tour of Israel and the towns they left. The teenager had been removed from his home in the middle of the night by masked Israeli soldiers and charged with throwing stones at a military Jeep. He as held a maximum security prison, and the director was asked by his family to join them for his court hearing. Alexandrowicz said, “It was enlightening. I had never been in a military court and for the first time in my life, I was in an Israeli military court room, and I was witnessing the mechanism with which my country, my society, purports to administer justice to Palestinian residents of the occupied territories. This event changed my understanding of the situation in which I live.”

Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi at Sundance 2012

Another Israeli film, “5 Broken Cameras,” a co-production directed by Emad Burnat, received Sundance’s World Cinema Documentary Directing Award. Co-Written by Guy Davidi and co-directed with Burnat, it is a co-production of Palestinian, Israeli and French funds. A resident of the village of Bil’in, the documentary follows Burnat, a farmer, as he and his family struggle non-violently against the erection of Israel’s separation wall. Why the title? It refers to the five cameras that were broken, or actually destroyed, by Israeli soldiers and authorities during the making of the film. Burnat purchased his first digital camera in 2005 to film the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. As each camera is destroyed, young Gibreel’s innocence is also slowly ruined. Davidi and Burnat’s earlier film, Interrupted Streams, premiered in 2010 at the Jerusalem International Film Festival.

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