Why U Should Check Out UNAFF

by Grant Genske

Documentary film has the power to inform our opinions, challenge our assumptions and, ideally, engender change.

That’s the belief of many of the directors who will be showcasing their films during the 17th United Nations Associated Film Festival, which begins on October 16th and runs through the 26th. Among the 70 entries are films discussing climate change, third-trimester abortions, human trafficking, E-waste, mental illness, and a staggering 11 films centered around events in the Middle East.

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The centerpiece of the festival is A People Without a Land, a compelling expository directed by Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon. A self described “Jewish Rebel,” Ungar-Sargon traces the suffering of the Palestinian people from the formation of the Israeli state in 1948 to the current occupation. As he travels through Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Ungar-Sargon introduces the viewer to a wide variety of characters, all of whom offer contrasting and sometimes contradictory solutions to the fundamental question: can there ever be peace in the region?

I was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and ask Eli some questions about his piece, and why he believes Berkeley students should see his film:

Grant: “Your documentary prominently displays young people and their opinions about the occupation. What is the importance of young voices in your documentary?”

Eli: “Obviously young people are the future, but there is something depressing happening with young people in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. On the Palestinian side, there is a generation of people who have never met an Israeli. On the Israeli side, you have a young generation of people who are increasingly racist, who are swept up into a nationalistic fervor. However, it’s never everyone; you always meet these gems who, for whatever reason, have resisted the ideology, and who still believe in shared humanity and the “other,” and that’s amazing to me.”

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Grant: “I believe that your documentary has a lot to say for students. Does your film have a message for students at UC Berkeley, and for students at other universities across the US?”

Eli: “I think that we are at a critical juncture with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think that everyone agrees that the Oslo Accords and that entire paradigm of the two state solution is going out the window. The two state solution has been dead for a long time, and the question is when everyone is going to wake up to that reality.

“I think students can play a pivotal role in joining with tactics like the BDS movement, which I think is an incredible tool to push the reality a little bit. The whole point of the BDS (Boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement is to circumvent the kind of power structures that have failed so far. I love the fact that it is non-violent, and that it is something that everyone who cares about Israel/ Palestine can engage with. We have a focus in our film on the 3 segments of the Palestinian population that BDS addresses: the Palestinians living in Israel, the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and the Palestinian refugees. These are all tentpoles in our film conceptually and thematically, and I think that our film and the BDS movement would get along very well.”

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Eliyahu’s film is a daring depiction of the conflict, but it is only one of 70 films which will be displayed at UNAFF this year! So, If you can hitch a ride to Palo Alto (BOO HISS STANFURD) between October 17th-26th, I highly recommend that you see A People Without a Land, as well any of the other 69 documentaries being showcased this year.

Grant Genske is the Director of Entertainment for CalTV E!

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